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COVID-19 vaccine tourism? Florida could be hot spot as governor discourages outsiders

Jane Musgrave and John Pacenti, Palm Beach Post
·4 min read
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While thousands of seniors in Florida are bleary eyed and angry after spending weeks trying unsuccessfully to get an appointment for a coronavirus vaccine, the former chairman and CEO of Time Warner told a national television audience on Friday that it was a breeze.

Richard Parsons, who is also a former chairman of Citigroup, said he left his home of New York to travel to Florida specifically because the Sunshine State made it so easy.

“It’s orderly and sensible,” the 72-year-old Parsons said while appearing on "Squawk Box" on CNBC. “I don’t know how Florida got the march on everyone else. But, you go online. You make an appointment. You get an appointment.”

While there is no evidence that Parsons pulled any strings; seniors who have experienced just how difficult it is to get an appointment said they worry that the business giant’s words will encourage others, reports The Palm Beach Post, which is part of the USA TODAY Network.

“Oh my god,” said Carol DeLaster, who watched Parsons' interview from her home west of Lantana, Florida. “The people here can’t get the vaccine, and he made it seem like it was a piece of cake.”

Longer delays could prolong pandemic: COVID-19 vaccine doses have been delivered but are sitting on pharmacy shelves

Former Citigroup chief executive officer Richard Parsons   (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Former Citigroup chief executive officer Richard Parsons (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Later, she said, someone on the program announced that Florida was becoming the vaccine tourist capital of the United States.

“They might as well have said, ‘Get on a plane. Come on down,'" said DeLaster, 76. “It’s crazy.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has said that it is difficult to block nonresidents from getting vaccinated because Florida attracts so many snowbirds.

“We’re a transient state,” DeSantis said Monday during a news conference in Miami. “You’ll have people that will be here and it’s not like they’re just on vacation for two weeks.”

Still, while it would be difficult to turn away snowbirds, tourists who are “flying by night” are a different matter, DeSantis said.

“We’re discouraging people who come to Florida just to get a vaccine,” he said.

Parsons, who owns a home in Miami Beach, said he was supposed to receive a vaccine on Sunday.

Who is getting the COVID-19 vaccine?

The fear that the rich and powerful will snap up all the vaccines is not unfounded.

Already, MorseLife Health System, a large elder care system in West Palm Beach, Florida, is under state investigation for allowing wealthy benefactors, some from New York, to be inoculated with vaccines that were supposed to be used only for residents and staff.

Further, Baptist Health South acknowledged this week that it allowed its “supporters” to receive vaccinations before it made them available to outsiders. All were over the age of 65 or were in high risk groups, said Michael Maucker, a Baptist Health spokesman.

DeSantis said on Wednesday that MorseLife is being investigated by the Department of Health and the state's inspector general. He said he expects the results of the investigation soon.

U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., has also called for a congressional investigation.

MorseLife has not made any public statements on the matter.

Vaccine 'tourists' could be jumping ahead of residents

DeSantis said he is hoping vaccine bottlenecks for residents are reduced in the upcoming weeks and that he was petitioning the federal government to give the state more than the 250,000 doses it had been promised for the week, which was half of the amount the state received two weeks prior.

Still, Scott said he wants answers about how Florida is distributing the vaccine. In a letter Friday to Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, he asked pointed questions about how people can get inoculated.

Florida expected to receive 1.4 million doses by the end of the week, he said.

However, according to a daily update from the Florida Department of Health, only 547,968 people in Florida had received the first shot and 39,988 had received the required booster as of Monday.

How is COVID-19 vaccine being distributed in New York and Florida?

Parsons blamed the federal government for raising hopes about the vaccine and then not setting up distribution channels. “Frankly, it’s a mess because there’s no coordination, there’s no national leadership,” he said.

But, he said, Florida is far more organized than his home state.

It has also been one of the few states allowing people as young as 65 to be first in line. Other states had been following guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to limit vaccines to those 75 and older. But Tuesday the Trump administration asked other states to expand vaccinations to people 65 and older.

Parsons said New York's distribution plan is a mess.

“In New York, they’re still busy trying to hand out the vaccines to the various dispensers,” he said on CNBC. “No one can tell you when they’re going to get their allocation, how much they’re going to get or what they’re going to do with it.”

He didn’t say where he planned to go to get the vaccine in South Florida. He only said that scheduling it was easy.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: COVID-19 vaccine tourism: Florida discourages outsiders seeking shot