TAMPA, Fla. - It’s official: You now have to live in Florida – at least part-time – in order to get a COVID-19 vaccine in the Sunshine State.
Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees issued the order Thursday, following comments by Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this week that he wanted to make sure the state’s COVID-19 vaccine supply is being directed to Florida residents.
"You got to live here, you know, either full time or at least part-time," DeSantis said during an appearance in Rockledge. "That can include people who live here half the year, but it’s not for people just visiting."
Rivkees’ order requires providers to ensure the recipient is either a Florida resident or a health care worker involved in front-line care.
Tom Maladecki loves life in Florida at least for part of the year and he wants, or he would say, "needs," the COVID-19 vaccine.
"My body doesn't really like being in the cold anymore" Maladecki explained. "I know that I am in that endangered group."
Though he has tried for two weeks, he says he has been unable to make an appointment through the state's website.
The DeSantis administration's public health advisory said, "Prior to giving the first dose, providers should ensure the recipient is a Florida resident."
Maladecki's driver's license is from Illinois.
The change comes after media reports about people from outside the state coming to Florida to get vaccinated – a situation DeSantis said was the result of Florida’s vaccine rollout.
"The fact that you have people all over the world wanting to come to Florida, you can't say we aren't doing shots, because if we weren't doing shots, people wouldn't want to get it," the governor added.
Maladecki said, "My initial thought on seeing that screen was, ‘My gosh, I am going to have to drive back to Illinois in order to get the shot?’"
But this may be a case of the state not having its vetting system caught up with the new rule. The order says they'll go by residency requirements in the medical marijuana law. That says either you need a driver's license or proof you own or get bills at a house.
"Vaccinating snowbirds, people who live here, rent, own a house, pay taxes and contribute to the economy, they are eligible," said Jared Moskowitz, Florida's head of the Dept. of Emergency Management.
Because he owns his home in Zephyrhills, he's hoping the vetting system smooths out so he can show his proof that "snowbird" doesn't mean "freeloader."
"We are all people here," said Maladecki. "We all have the same needs. Since I am here, please treat me just like anybody else."
So far, 41,000 of the 1-million people who have been vaccinated in the state were marked as out-of-state residents, but the state data makes no distinction between visitors and "snowbirds," residents who live in the state for several months during the winter.
Misty Servia, a commissioner in Manatee County, was among the first officials to announce the new restrictions to her constituents. Although she said it was a good move, the goal was not to keep the vaccine from snowbirds.
Servia said she had not heard reports of visitors from other states or countries flying into her community solely with the purpose of getting the shot.
"But the perception out there is very powerful that it was happening. We just didn't have any data that it happened here," Servia said.
In December, DeSantis issued an order giving vaccine priority to those 65 and older, but he left local distribution up to the individual counties, with mixed results.
As of Wednesday, 1,059,041 people had received the first of the double-dose vaccines, while only 123,971 people had completed both doses.
The pace has slowed over the last week. Thursday’s executive order noted that the vaccine is "extremely scarce" and Rivkees himself warned Tuesday that he could not say when more doses of COVID-19 vaccines would arrive in Florida.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.