“We’re only doing (shots) for Florida residents,” DeSantis said Tuesday in Cape Coral. “You’ve got to live here either full-time or at least part-time.”
At another news conference in Rockledge on Tuesday, DeSantis differentiated between “snowbirds,” who live in Florida in winter months, and those just stopping in to try to get vaccinated.
“Now we do have part-time residents who are here all winter,” he said. “They go to doctors here or whatever, that’s fine. What we don’t want is tourists, foreigners. We want to put seniors first, but we obviously want to put people that live here first in line.”
But the issue is not specific to Florida. Vaccine tourism is the result of a few key factors: the shortage of vaccine compared to demand; the disorganized start to administering the shots; and the lack of consistent federal guidance, which has created different vaccine availability between states and even between counties.
Dr. Peter Hotez, a vaccine expert and the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, said vaccine tourism highlighted the failures of the slow-moving federal vaccine rollout.
“If we’re still in this situation a month from now, we’re going to be in a lot of trouble,” he said.
Why people travel to get a vaccine
Florida has allowed anyone 65 and older to get vaccinated, regardless of where they live, making it one of the first states to open to that age group.
“They knew that we were coming from out of state and they said that that was fine,” Connie Wallace said, “so we didn’t feel like we were pushing anybody else out, which we didn’t want to do.”
Connie is 68 and has underlying health issues related to her heart, WBMA reported. The couple managed to get a vaccine appointment online and so ventured to Carrollton, Georgia, to get inoculated.
“I would have gone eight hours away if I had to,” Mark Wallace told WBMA.
Similar interstate vaccinations have been seen at major metropolitan areas that cross borders.
Because the federal government allots vaccine based on population, this has created an uneven rollout.
Vaccine tourism is not a big deal, experts say
Dr. William Schaffner, professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University, said he recognized that a New Yorker might be frustrated to see a commuter from New Jersey crossing state lines to get vaccinated.
But as long as the vaccine is being used rather than sitting untouched, it’s not a problem from a public health perspective.
“Rather than ‘it’s my vaccine, not yours,’ (getting) vaccine in arms is what we want,” he said. “I would hope we quickly have enough vaccine so we don’t have to belabor these somewhat petty issues.”
“There are people who are eager to get the vaccine — boy, that’s a good thing,” he said. “So let’s not ding their resourcefulness and imagination.”
“Vaccine tourists are most likely setting themselves up for disappointments,” he said.
CNN’s Maria Cartaya contributed to this report.