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DeSantis says he is against COVID-19 'vaccine tourism' to Florida

Dave Berman
Florida Today
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis holds a news conference Tuesday in the parking lot at the Publix at Stadium Corners in Viera. At right is Florida Senate Majority Leader Debbie Mayfield.

Gov. Ron DeSantis says he doesn't want out-of-state residents coming to Florida to get their COVID-19 vaccines, which are in limited supply, and is pushing a new restriction on the vaccine distribution.

"What we don't want is … tourists, foreigners" getting the vaccine in Florida, DeSantis said during a news conference Tuesday in Viera, where he came to announce that 22 Publix stores in Brevard County will be offering the vaccine.

"We want to put seniors first, but we obviously want to put people that live here first in line," DeSantis said. "And that can include people that live here half the year. But it's not for people that are just visiting."

More:Feels like 'Hunger Games' for seniors as COVID-19 vaccine demand far outstrips supply

More:COVID vaccine in Brevard: What to know about appointments, how many vaccinated, cost and more

The governor also emphasized that message during a news conference the same day outside a Publix store in Jupiter.

"To just kind of come in from another country or whatever, we don't support that, and we're not going to allow that," DeSantis said. "We're not doing 'vaccine tourism.' "

Individuals with an out-of-state identification now will be required to provide proof of residency or semi-permanent residency to get a vaccination through the Department of Health in Brevard County. Examples include a utility bill, property tax receipt or lease agreement for Florida property.

A Florida Department of Health database indicates that 39,214 people who received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Florida were from out of state, representing 3.5% of the 1,122,405 people receiving a vaccine. Many of them, however, have an out-of-state legal address, but were living in Florida at the time they received their vaccine.

DeSantis said he has no issue with part-time Florida residents whose permanent address is in another state or Canada getting a vaccine while they are living in Florida. And he has no problem with a Florida resident of one county getting a vaccine in a different Florida county.

But he draws the line with out-of-state residents driving or flying to Florida specifically for a vaccine.

There have been multiple media reports in recent days about wealthy residents of other states or other countries flying to Florida to get COVID-19 vaccines. These included real estate developers, attorneys, Hollywood insiders and the mother of an Argentine television personality. 

DeSantis said the fact that people from outside the state want to come to Florida for their vaccines demonstrates that Florida is administering shots to a large number of senior citizens. He noted that some states still have an age requirement of 75-plus for the vaccine, in contrast with Florida's 65-plus requirement.

Current demand for the vaccine is far outstripping supply. Many of Florida's roughly 4.4 million residents ages 65 and up have been struggling to secure a coveted appointment for a vaccine through overloaded online or phone appointment systems.

At last count, 727,168 people age 65 and up have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Florida, representing about 16.5% of the state's population in that age group. 

"We're winning that by a country mile nationwide" in administering the vaccine to senior citizens, DeSantis said.

DeSantis believes most senior citizens want the vaccine, but noted that there are not enough doses to accommodate them all for now.

DeSantis said Florida entities administered more than 400,000 doses of the vaccine last week, and have the ability to do twice that amount.

Yet Florida received only 270,000 new doses in its vaccine shipment from the federal government this week.

In Florida, the vaccine is being administered at a variety of venues, including at Florida Department of Health sites; Publix pharmacies; hospitals; long-term-care facilities; certain state-run, drive-thru, community-based sites, including in The Villages and at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens; and some places of worship.

Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees said in a statewide phone call Tuesday with hospital officials that he does not know when additional “first doses” of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will be sent to the state or how many doses would be in a potential future delivery.

"At the present time, we are in pretty much a supply-limited situation," Rivkees said. "So, as more vaccine becomes available, we will be able to determine when we can send more vaccines out to hospitals for community vaccination."

The additional first-dose vaccines, Rivkees said, would be in addition to follow-up second-dose vaccines that were delivered to hospitals late last week and early this week.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that people take two doses of COVID-19 vaccines for full protection. The second dose of the Pfizer vaccine can be administered 21 days after the first dose, while the second dose of the Moderna vaccine can be administered as early as 24 days after the first dose.

While the vaccine remains in short supply, a U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee initially recommended that front-line health care workers and long-term-care residents and staff be vaccinated. The advisory committee then recommended that the eligibility group be expanded to include essential workers,  such as teachers, firefighters and certain retail workers.

DeSantis bucked that recommendation and issued an executive order Dec. 23 adding people 65 and older and health workers with direct patient contact to the list of eligible vaccine candidates.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced last week that the federal government was recommending that other states do the same.

At latest count, there have been 1,601,011 COVID-19 cases and 24,578 COVID-19 deaths in Florida. That included 26,735 cases and 594 deaths in Brevard County.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

Dave Berman is government editor at FLORIDA TODAY.  

Contact Berman at dberman@floridatoday.com. Twitter: @bydaveberman 

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