‘Bama bound: Floridians flock north to find vaccine

Published: Feb. 26, 2021 at 11:03 PM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - The pandemic has forced many of us to cancel travel plans, but the vaccine rollout has prompted a new form of so-called “tourism.”

The newly-coined phrase “vaccine tourism” refers to people who travel far and cross state lines to find a place that will give them a shot.

Some here in North Florida are traveling west to get vaccinated.

Alabama has one of the most inclusive eligibility requirements of any state- opening up vaccines to a whole range of what they call “critical” front line workers.

On Feb. 8, Alabama moved to phase 1B of their vaccine rollout, giving folks of any age who work in any of these occupations a chance to get a shot, from clergy, to teachers, to members of the judiciary — and they don’t have to be from Alabama.

Max Solomon is an elder law attorney in Tallahassee, where he interacts with the elderly, sometimes in-person. He also lives with epilepsy.

He isn’t eligible in Florida, but says he meets at least three requirements in Alabama.

“The availability in vaccines was completely opposite of our state,” Solomon said.

So, Solomon logged on to Alabama’s registration for and booked an appointment for mid-March.

Then, he says a friend told him to check out Walmart’s site.

He found a store within driving distance with spots open for the next day.

“It took me five seconds to register...just absolutely astonishing,” Solomon said.

Katerine Drabiak is an associate professor at USF and is an expert in medical ethics. She isn’t surprised by “vaccine tourism.”

“There is this sense of heightened panic,” she said.

“This is actually a quite common practice of people clamoring for access and jumping not only across state or county lines, but traveling internationally,” said Drabiak.

Solomon hopes his journey opens doors for others, too.

“I think we all have the responsibility to help our neighbors out so we can get out of this madness,” he said.

An official with Alabama Public Health told CBS Atlanta this week that they would prefer out-of-state residents to avoid using this option, but said it’s absolutely allowed.

That official noted just under two percent of all people vaccinated in Alabama had an out-of-state address.

Right now, Florida allows eligible full-time and seasonal residents to get the vaccine here.

Georgia follows similar guidelines.

The governors of both states have indicated that expanded eligibility criteria’s could be coming within a few weeks.

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