Health experts weigh in on vaccine tourism

Posted at 8:52 PM, Jan 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-26 22:09:59-05

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - More and more people are getting COVID-19 vaccines in Hampton Roads and across the country.

Meanwhile, there have been reports of what's being called "vaccine tourism": People traveling outside their home communities to get vaccinated.

“The intention is to have people be vaccinated in their home communities,” Virginia Beach EMS Chief Ed Brazle told News 3.

Brazle said so far, more than 34,000 people are interested in getting their vaccine in the city.

“It's an honor system," he said. “It's only a small percentage of the people we've been vaccinating at the convention center have been from other cities, and many of those actually work in Virginia Beach.”

According to their website, Virginia Beach officials say if you don’t live or work in the city to contact your local health department for more information.

Dr. John Snellings, Assistant Professor of Family and Community Medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School, said vaccine tourism is a complicated issue.

“We want to get people vaccinated as quickly as possible, but at the same time, we don't want to compromise the supply of vaccines in a specific locale for the permanent residents of that location,” Snellings said.

In Florida, data from state health officials show of more than 1.4 million people vaccinated, more than 48,000 live out of state.

Last week, Florida’s Surgeon General issued a public health advisory stating vaccine providers ensure those getting shots live in state.

North Carolina and Virginia health officials addressed reports of those traveling outside communities to get shots.

“Our priority is to vaccinate North Carolinians,” North Carolina Dept. of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said. “It is clear with our agreement with the federal government that we cannot limit by borders by jurisdiction.”

“These are federally supplied vaccines,” Dr. Danny Avula of the Virginia Dept. of Health (VDH) said. “We, especially on those border towns, we'll vaccinate anyone who comes. We're not requiring state residency.”

Brazle told News 3 one priority is making sure residents stay with the same medication with which they’re vaccinated.

“The challenge that we're facing is your first and second vaccinations need to be the same medication,” he said. “If you get a vaccination in another community and then you don't go back to that site four weeks later, you may be showing up somewhere and getting the wrong medication."

Former VDH State Health Commissioner Dr. Marissa Levine is a public health practice professor at the University of South Florida.

“People in a particular area think that the vaccines are theirs, and to some degree, they've been allocated to them based on the population,” Levine said. “It raises lots of anxiety when other people come in and try to get their vaccine, so to speak.”

She told News 3 going elsewhere to get shots is not a new concept.

“Especially when you have a situation as we do now where we're attempting a mass vaccination effort and demand is greater than supply, at the end of the day, people are kind of jockeying for position to get the vaccine,” Levine said.

Levine believes clear communication and transparency are vital looking ahead.

“At the end of the day, that's what we need right now - is just lots of transparency and a good ethical framework so that we really work toward an equitable distribution of vaccines even when there is a shortage,” she said.

Meanwhile, Brazle said it's important to be patient and encourages people to use local health systems available to them.

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