Anyone who wants to receive a vaccine against COVID-19 in Florida must prove they are a resident of the state, according to a new emergency public health declaration signed Thursday by Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees.
In the advisory, Rivkees said the “prioritization of Floridians for COVID-19 vaccine in Florida” is “necessary to protect public health and safety,” as a result of limited vaccine availability in the state. The advisory would apply to “every vaccine provider,” the advisory said.
The only cited exception to the new residency mandate are healthcare workers who are working directly with patients. Nonresidents who received the first dose will be able to receive their second dose in Florida, according to a Florida Department of Health spokesperson.
The new statewide advisory is a change in direction for several local health leaders, who reinforced earlier this month that they would not deny anyone a vaccine if they could prove they were over 65.
It follows similar requirements from other Florida counties, where patients must show a valid Florida driver’s license or photo identification, a utility bill with a Florida address and the patient’s name, or, in the case of “snowbirds,” a part-time rental agreement.
State law gives law enforcement the authority to enforce the advisory and leaves it up to county public health officials to establish the procedures for implementing the advisory.
Florida’s new vaccine requirements come after several news outlets, including the Miami Herald, documented several cases of “vaccine tourism,” or the practice of traveling to Florida from another country or state just for the purpose of receiving the vaccine.
While Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has previously said he approves of “snowbirds” receiving the vaccine, he has said he opposes “vaccine tourism” and signaled he would curb the practice. So far, at least four counties are now requiring proof of Florida residency, including Manatee, Volusia, Seminole and Sarasota counties.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said in a statement that the state’s guidelines were just reinforcing “what has already been our priority in Miami-Dade: To put shots in the arms of those who live in Miami-Dade County as quickly as possible.”
She added that the demand was “enormous” and they were working to get shots quickly to Miami-Dade residents.
“We need more vaccines and we need them now,” the mayor said.
Last week, Jackson Health System, the state’s largest hospital system, said it would require proof that vaccine patients live in the U.S. — an effort to deter tourists from signing up for vaccination appointments.
After Thursday’s announcement from the state, a spokesperson for Jackson said the hospital system will require patients to present a Florida ID in keeping with the new requirement. If a patient doesn’t have a Florida ID, they must bring two documents that prove they reside in Florida, such as a utility bill, lease agreement, or property-tax statement. Patients who have already received their first shot will not be required to prove Florida residency for their second shot.
“Our focus remains on preventing the spread of COVID-19 by vaccinating as many people who live in our community, and at the same time not create roadblocks to those who have limited access to extensive documentation,” spokesperson Lidia Amoretti said in a statement.