The odd places people come from to get vaccinated in Florida

·3 min read

The U.S. is turning to Florida to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Residents of every state in the country have been vaccinated in Florida, state health data shows. Of the more than 10 million people vaccinated here with at least one dose, 1 in 40 lives somewhere else.

The 258,774 individuals came most often from New York, followed by New Jersey. Kentucky, Michigan and Georgia, the data shows.

They came from small towns such as Evergreen, Alabama; Carbondale, Illinois; Lawton, Oklahoma; and Clovis, New Mexico — but also from urban centers such as Chicago, Boston and Seattle, and as far as Anchorage, Alaska, and Anaheim, California.

More than 3,400 people from Mobile, Alabama, got one or more doses in Florida, as did more than 3,600 from Lexington, Kentucky, and close to 1,000 from Akron, Ohio, the data shows.

The number of vaccinated out-of-towners is based on ZIP codes provided by the state health department through May 24. Individuals give residential ZIP codes when they register for a vaccine, and the information is entered in a state database.

The newspaper was unable to determine how many people from outside the U.S. were vaccinated in Florida with at least one dose. The number of unknown ZIP codes — 11,857 — could represent international residents or human error in data entry.

Recently, Luisa Marin of Delray Beach brought a group of six adults and children from Colombia to get vaccinated at a mobile van on Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach. “It’s difficult for them to get a vaccine at home so while they’re here visiting me, they are eager to get it,” Marin said.

When vaccines first arrived in Florida in December, there was a rush to vaccinate health care workers and the elderly population starting with ages 65 and up. Anyone who registered for a vaccine in Florida and fit the age requirement could get one. Many other states followed federal guidelines that set the age at 75 or prioritized essential workers.

With demand high, people traveled to the Sunshine State to get shots. But a public outcry from Florida seniors scrambling to get shots led to new rules.

In January, after reports of wealthy foreigners engaged in vaccine tourism, state Surgeon General Scott Rivkees required that anyone being vaccinated show a Florida identification card to prove that they live here. Snowbirds needed two forms of proof that they lived at a residential address in Florida.

But then demand for the vaccine slowed in late April, and the rules changed again.

The surgeon general removed the proof-of-residency requirement to allow anyone providing goods or services in Florida to get the vaccine. Public health experts said the barrier had kept undocumented migrants from getting a shot.

For the last month, anyone who arrives at a vaccination site and fills out the registration has been able to get a shot.

Walt Disney World — with staff from all over the world — is offering vaccines onsite at health services and pop-up clinics throughout the property. As an incentive, Disney is offering cash to employees who get vaccinated.

Now that there’s more vaccine than demand, the foreigners are back, too.

Vaccines are being given at cruise ports such as Port of Miami and Port Everglades and local airports. The Facebook group South Florida COVID-19 Vaccination Info is filled with posts by people from Brazil, Peru, Argentina and Colombia interested in coming to Miami or Fort Lauderdale to get vaccinated and inquiring where to go. Most say to register by giving the address of family or friends in Florida.

This weekend, Julie Carolina Sanchez said she will arrive in Miami from Colombia with the hopes of getting a COVID vaccine. Once she gets a first dose, she plans to return in a few weeks for the second.

“It’s very complicated,” Sanchez said of why she doesn’t get vaccinated at home. She said South Florida has good shopping, dining and parks, making it an attractive place to travel for vaccines.

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