Floridians grumble about “vaccine tourists”

Miami, Jan 9 (efe-epa).- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision to offer the Covid-19 vaccine free of charge to anyone over the age of 65 is attracting people from other parts of the United States and even from Latin America to the Sunshine State, prompting some residents to complain about “vaccine tourists.”

The DeSantis administration has not imposed a residency requirement to receive the shot, so there is no way to know how many of the roughly 420,000 people vaccinated so far in Florida are full-time residents.

Florida is the country’s third-most-populous state, with nearly 22 million inhabitants.

That total does not include the many non-residents, known as “snowbirds,” who regularly spend the winter months in Florida.

Given that the state has an over-65 population of 4.5 million, demand for the vaccine far exceeds supply at this point.

The controversy over vaccine tourism was stoked Thursday when Argentine television personality Yanina Latorre revealed on Instagram that her mother received the coronavirus vaccine while vacationing in Florida.

Latorre posted images of her mother’s getting the jab at Hard Rock Stadium in the Miami suburbs and the story was quickly picked up by Spanish-language media in South Florida.

“I think it’s awful that people would come here from out of town and jump the line, in effect, for people that are here and need the vaccines,” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said. “They should wait until everyone’s been vaccinated and then come in afterwards.”

A reporter from Univision television talked to Mexican visitor Miguel Bergencal as he was sitting in a car waiting for his turn to be inoculated.

Miguel Bergencal said he came to Florida to get the shot because “the situation in Mexico is pretty difficult.”

Florida’s number of confirmed Covid-19 cases grew by more than 19,500 Friday to 1.45 million and the Sunshine State accounts for nearly 23,000 of the 369,000 lives lost to the virus in the US.

While some Florida cities and counties require masks and social distancing, DeSantis, a devoted acolyte of President Donald Trump, has rejected imposing a statewide mask mandate and appears to be counting on vaccination to put a halt to the pandemic.

On Friday, Richard Parsons, the former chairman and CEO of media conglomerate Time Warner, said on CNBC television that he traveled to Florida from his home in New York for the specific purpose of getting the vaccine.

“I don’t know how Florida got the march on everyone else. But, you go online. You make an appointment. You get an appointment,” Parsons, 72, said on the network’s “Squawk Box” program.

Carol DeLaster, who lives in Palm Beach County, watched Parsons’ appearance on CNBC and shared her reaction with the Palm Beach Post.

“The people here can’t get the vaccine, and he made it seem like it was a piece of cake,” the 76-year-old told the newspaper. “They might as well have said, ‘Get on a plane. Come on down.’ It’s crazy.”

In some Florida counties, people over 65 were invited to show up at vaccination sites and be inoculated on a first come, first served basis, resulting in long lines and traffic jams.

And in some jurisdictions that set up a system of online appointments, the websites were overwhelmed and crashed.

“We’re a transient state. You’ll have people that will be here and it’s not like they’re just on vacation for two weeks,” DeSantis said Monday when asked about vaccine tourism, though he added: “We’re discouraging people who come to Florida just to get a vaccine.”

US Sen. Rick Scott said this week that by Jan. 16, Florida will have received 1.4 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. EFE

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