Vaccine tourists are traversing the US to get a COVID-19 shot. Here are 4 states treating visitors.

Andrea Michelson
·5 min read
covid vaccine drive-thru
A healthcare worker administers a COVID-19 vaccine at a drive-thru site at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida on February 1, 2021. Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images
  • People are traveling out of state to get COVID-19 vaccines.

  • Florida, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Arizona have all vaccinated non-residents.

  • Vaccine seekers may travel due to work, part-time residency, or frustration with rollout in their home state.

  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

As Americans navigate a COVID-19 vaccine rollout that looks wildly different from state to state, some are crossing state lines to get their shots.

Not all of these people are wealthy vaccine tourists looking to jump the line, and they're not just going to Florida. Although the Sunshine State has vaccinated the greatest number of out-of-staters (of the states that have data available), Pennsylvania's ratio of non-residents to residents getting vaccines is more than twice as high.

Some of these non-residents may be people who work outside of their home state, while others traveled to get vaccinated because they didn't qualify at home. It can be frustrating to watch vaccine rollout stall in your area while there are appointments available just over the border, one vaccine seeker told Insider.

The real source of confusion and driver of vaccine-related travel is inconsistency between states, former CDC director Tom Frieden said in a Resolve to Save Lives briefing.

"Although we do our healthcare by state, not only in the US but globally, we really have to reduce differences between areas," said Frieden, who is president and CEO of Resolve. "You'd really want criteria to be as consistent across the country as possible, and also for performance to be as consistent as possible."

Here are four states where differences in vaccine rollout have attracted out-of-staters.

Southern vaccine seekers are traveling to Mississippi

Vaccine seekers from Georgia and Louisiana are traveling to Mississippi to get their shots, according to local news and social media.

In the Facebook groups NOLA Vaccine Hunters and Georgia Vaccine Hunters, members have shared reports of successful trips to Mississippi. Many of the members qualify to get vaccinated there but wouldn't be eligible in their home states.

Christopher Doherty, a 31-year-old man living in Atlanta, told Insider he drove four hours to Mississippi to get his first Moderna shot earlier this month. As a type 1 diabetic, he qualified for Mississippi's current phase of rollout while Georgia has stalled in phase 1a+.

At the drive-thru clinic where he got vaccinated, Doherty confirmed his address and county in Georgia. Although Mississippi health officials have said their vaccine supply is reserved for people living and working in the state, Doherty said he didn't have any trouble getting his first shot there and was able to schedule his second.

The number of out-of-staters vaccinated in Mississippi was 6,777 as of February 8, Liz Sharlot, director of communications for the state health department, told Insider.

Florida was an early vaccine tourism destination

Florida was one of the first states to vaccinate adults aged 65 and older. Although other states have since expanded their eligibility criteria, the Sunshine State earned an early reputation as a destination for vaccine seekers.

Vaccine tourists from other states and countries flocked to Florida in January, until the state issued a public health advisory that requires people to show proof of full-time or part-time residency to get a shot. Still, a pair of New York real estate magnates, at least a dozen Argentinian corporate executives, and a popular Mexican TV host all got vaccinated in Florida before the rules changed.

Approximately 63,700 out-of-staters were at least partially vaccinated in Florida at the time of publication, making up nearly 3% of the state's total vaccinations, according to state data.

That total includes people who live in Florida part-time but have a primary residence somewhere else, the Florida Department of Health confirmed in an email to Insider.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has drawn a line between "snowbirds" who spend their winters in the state and so-called vaccine tourists. People with part-time residences in Florida are welcome to get vaccinated there, but DeSantis discouraged people from traveling to the state just to get their shots.

Pennsylvania does not require people to show proof of residency to get a vaccine

In Pennsylvania, you don't need proof of residency to get vaccinated - in fact, the state prohibits vaccine providers from requiring it.

"Because the federal government purchased the vaccine, anyone in a priority group should be allowed to receive it, regardless of their place of residency," Maggi Barton, deputy press secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, wrote in an email to Insider.

Pennsylvania has vaccinated a greater proportion of out-of-staters than Florida, despite being a lesser-known spot for vaccine seekers. At the time of publication, about 6.7% of people vaccinated in Pennsylvania were not residents of the state.

That's more than 53,000 out-of-staters at least partially vaccinated in Pennsylvania, according to state data. Many of those people could be healthcare workers and long-term care facility staff who live out of state but work in Pennsylvania, but the state is also offering vaccines to seniors and people with high-risk health conditions.

Arizona's governor requested more doses for part-time residents

Florida isn't the only state with a snowbird population. Arizona also sees some winter visitors who might need to get vaccinated in the state.

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Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey told CNN earlier this month that he asked the Biden administration for 300,000 additional vaccine doses to accommodate the extra demand from visitors.

However, Arizona's vaccine data dashboard does not include a total number of out-of-staters vaccinated there, so it's hard to gauge how many snowbirds are really demanding vaccines.

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