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Florida cracks down on ‘vaccine tourism’ by asking for proof of residency

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TORONTO —
Snowbirds hoping to skip the line in Canada by flying to Florida for COVID-19 vaccines now face a tougher set of rules aimed at snuffing vaccine tourism.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday that anyone who owns property in Florida and lives there at least part-time will qualify for the vaccine, but travellers who aren’t state residents will no longer be eligible.

“To just kind of come in from another country or whatever, we don’t support that and we’re not going to allow that … we’re not doing vaccine tourism,” DeSantis told reporters in Jupiter, Fla.

Anyone with an out-of-state ID is now being asked to provide proof of residency or semi-permanent residency, be it a utility bill, property tax receipt or lease agreement. Before the change, anyone over 65 was eligible to get vaccinated.

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The new rules came into effect Tuesday and apply to all state-run sites, according to Volusia County Emergency Management.

Some Canadian snowbirds took advantage of these lax rules and chartered private planes to Florida in order to get shots. One couple told CTV News that they travelled to Florida for their mental well-being but saw getting the vaccine as an added bonus. A company that charters private jets said it experienced “huge demand” during the pandemic, with some clients travelling specifically for vaccines.

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Similar rules in Arizona have allowed snowbirds to be among the earliest vaccine recipients.

Florida Sen. Rick Scott highlighted the issue in a letter to public health officials earlier this month, asking how they were addressing vaccine demand among snowbirds.

DeSantis stressed that the vast majority of travellers seeking vaccines own property in Florida, adding: “There hasn’t actually been a large number.”

But Martin Firestone, a Toronto-based travel broker who has urged clients since November to avoid international travel, said he’s seen a significant number of Canadians interested in flying stateside for early shots. He expects the new rules will reduce overall travel to Florida.

“I think it’s going to take a huge dent out of it,” Firestone told CTVNews.ca on Wednesday.

Before the new restrictions, Firestone said he knew of Canadians who booked vaccine appointments online and made flight plans based on the three-week period they’d need to get both shots. Now, he said, he’s already heard from travellers who are now cut off from getting vaccines.

“This is going to shut the door on anyone who was going strictly to get the vaccine and wasn’t an owner, per se, in a residential community, adult lifestyle community,” he said.

Florida is the most popular state for Canadian real estate investors, with an estimated 500,000 snowbirds travelling to the Sunshine state in a typical year.

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The federal government continues to advise against all non-essential travel, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly urged Canadians not to travel abroad on holiday.

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