Snowbirds consider leaving Florida due to frustration with vaccine process

Reporter: Morgan Rynor Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
A member of the Florida National Guard directs vehicles at a drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination site at Marlins Park, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Seasonal residents of Southwest Florida are at their wits’ end. Snowbirds are ready to pack up and move away if they can’t get a coronavirus vaccine.

The vaccine distribution is causing fallout for a lot of people who can’t prove they’re a permanent resident but spend nearly half of the year living in the state.

The move could create a bigger fallout for our state’s economy.

We looked at why snowbirds are having trouble meeting Florida residency requirements for the vaccine Wednesday.

There is a long list of requirements to prove residency, of which snowbirds need to prove two for the vaccine. We’ve heard from many who say they’re lucky to come up with one. These are people who spend lots of money and pay taxes in Southwest Florida.

If snowbirds continue to feel the process to get vaccinated is not working for them, it could mean the economy would take another hit.

Carol Ciesynski lives in Florida five months out of the year, but under the State’s requirements to get a vaccine, that doesn’t matter.

“Stan owns the property, so he gets all the utility bills, the mortgage, all of that,” Ciesynski said. “I don’t get anything. It’s like I don’t even exist, you know, if you think about it.”

Stan, Ciesynksi’s boyfriend, owns multiple properties in Lee County. His renters in those homes can get the vaccine. Ciesynski can’t.

“He said, ‘Well, we could put one of the utility bills in your name,’” Ciesynski said. “I said, ‘Well, that’s kind of silly just to get a vaccine. That doesn’t seem like a good idea.’ So I called my bank that’s down here, and they said, ‘Well, we can put your new address on your statement, but you won’t get it till the end of March.’”

There are many people in the same situation as Ciesynski in Southwest Florida. John Lindstrom lives in his RV down on Fort Myers Beach.

“My utility bills are included in my monthly lease of the spot where my RV is parked,” Lindstrom said. “If the residents of Florida had paid for the vaccine, then, they would have every right to deny me access to it. But they didn’t … It was purchased by the federal government for the benefit of all Americans.”

State Rep. Bob Rommel told us what snowbirds spend in the region or the state is not going to fill the budget shortfall. It’s projected to be $2.1 billion. If some snowbirds leave or don’t choose to visit the state because of the vaccine process, he said that won’t change the economy.

“Changing the rules of vaccination so people can spend more money is definitely not a reason to change the vaccination,” Rommel said.

For snowbirds and all who are eligible and yet to be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, Rommel said the best thing to do is all be patient together during the pandemic.

“It’s a vaccination that was produced in a year, and then there’s 22, 23 million people in Florida. There’s 350 million people in the United States. There’s about 7 billion people in the world, and everybody wants it,” Rommel said. “You just can’t produce it all magically overnight. We just have to be patient. We still have to be quite careful.”

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