MANATEE COUNTY (WFLA) – More than 289,000 people have been given the COVID-19 vaccine so far in Florida, according to the latest state data from the Florida Department of Health. But the data does not specify how many of those individuals were non-Florida residents.
Right now, there are no statewide residency requirements to receive a coronavirus vaccine through the Florida Department of Health. Not everyone thinks that’s fair.
Appointments at public vaccination sites across Tampa Bay have been highly coveted and are some are getting booked within a matter of minutes. With demand being so high and supply being limited, some locals feel they should have priority over visitors.
Alice Proffer lives across the street from the vaccination site at Bennett Park in Manatee County. She has yet to snag an appointment for her 72-year-old husband.
“I really want him to get that vaccine. He is 72 years old, a 100% disabled veteran, he has diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and asthma,” said Proffer.
The Manatee County resident admits it’s been frustrating seeing cars pull in and out of the site near her home.
“We sat over there and watched the cars that are coming out of the park. They’ve got Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, New York – and we’re like ‘oh, there goes our vaccine, there goes our vaccine, there goes our vaccine,’ and there’s nothing we can do about it but sit and watch,” she said.
Proffer feels full-time residents deserve access over visitors.
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“I hate to say that we deserve that priority, but we do. We are the ones paying the taxes, we are here when it is 120 degrees in the summertime, we don’t go anywhere. So the state should kind of think of us as their family and try to get us in there,” said Proffer.
Not everyone agrees that Floridians should have priority, as “snowbird season” is in full swing across the Suncoast.
“They walk among us. They are going to be in the community. I think vaccinating whoever we can, however we can, as fast as we can is fine,” Sarasota County resident PJ Bednarski said.
Betsey Fazzina lost her husband of 45 years to the coronavirus last summer.
“It just breaks my heart everyday,” said Fazzina.
The Suncoast resident was lucky to get a vaccine at Bennett Park in Manatee County Monday. She says it was an overall pleasant and efficient experience.
The retail worker tells 8 On Your Side most of her customers this time of year are snowbirds.
“If I have to work with them and wait on them, I would like to know that they are able to get a vaccination also and not have to wait for months before they go back home to get it,” said Fazzina.
She understands the frustrations others are experiencing, but feels more patience is needed.
“We are talking about hundreds of thousands of people. It is going to take time and, unfortunately, it hasn’t rolled out as we thought it would,” the longtime resident said. “And there may be a lot of blocks and hurdles to go over but patience is the key and eventually everyone is going to get it that wants it and that is going to be the key to solving this.”
Proffer, on the other hand, feels state leaders need to shift their priorities.
“Right now, this vaccine is worth more than the price of gold and that is what makes this kind of dangerous, because people are clamoring to get this vaccine – one way or the other – wherever they have to go to get it,” said Proffer.
8 On Your Side contacted the Florida Department of Health Tuesday asking why there are no residency requirements in Florida and what is being done to ensure people aren’t driving and flying across state lines to take vaccines away from Floridians.
“The state is committed to offering vaccines to all Floridians and non-residents, including seasonal residents,” a state spokesperson said. “It’s also important to note, for either COVID-19 vaccine to be the most effective, a second dose is required. All individuals who reside in the state during the time period between doses are eligible to receive the vaccine. The state is continuing to prioritize vaccine access to frontline health care workers and individuals 65 and older, and the state remains committed to ensuring these populations can easily receive the vaccine.”
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