Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday offered what may be his staunchest defense yet of Northerners who travel to Florida and receive a coveted COVID-19 vaccine.
Speaking to reporters at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, DeSantis contended that many snowbirds — Northerners who relocate to Florida during the warmer winter — are unlike tourists. He asserted that many sun-seekers own property in Florida, have relationships with local doctors and spend considerable time in the Sunshine State.
“We’re a transient state,” DeSantis said. “You’ll have people that will be here and it’s not like they’re just on vacation for two weeks.”
The issue of who should get access to the limited vaccine supply first is a global debate not unique to Florida.
Notably, DeSantis in December signed an executive order allowing those 65 and older to get a vaccine, making Florida the first state in the nation to do so.
The order broke ranks with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, which recommended that essential workers and those 75 and older should be first to receive vaccines.
Some contend that Florida’s broader access may lure Americans into the state’s already long COVID-19 vaccine line.
DeSantis acknowledged the possibility. He drew the line, however, on Florida’s short-term travelers.
“We’re discouraging people who come to Florida just to get a vaccine,” DeSantis said, adding that hospitals should turn away those “flying by night” from elsewhere.
As of Monday, 260,655 people in Florida have received the first dose of either Pfizer or Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. According to the Florida Department of Health, 42,475 of those doses were administered to people 65 and older.
DeSantis on Monday also unveiled a series of new steps to help jumpstart Florida’s sluggish vaccine distribution.
Among those steps, DeSantis plans to prioritize vaccine shipments to higher-performing hospitals.
The Department of Emergency Management will also activate contracts for 1,000 nurses to help at sites and shorthanded hospitals.
The new initiatives do not broaden or narrow DeSantis’ vaccine priority list.
“If they get sick over the winter, guess what?” the Governor quipped. “They’re going to come to a hospital in Florida.”