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In search of vaccines, some people are traveling to other states

Vaccine Tourism
Posted at 2:30 PM, Jan 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-29 16:39:05-05

CHICAGO — As new, more transmissible overseas variants of the coronavirus emerge here in the U.S. the race to get vaccinated is on. Some people are even traveling out of state where it might be easier to get a shot, while others struggle to make appointments in their home states.

Lisa Spewak, an early childhood center director in Illinois and an essential worker, has been waiting her turn to get vaccinated.

“Every day since August, I've been within a population where I'm susceptible,” said Spewak.

Dr. Inbar Kirson is a physician whose practice is not affiliated with a hospital. Despite providing COVID-19 testing every day, she says vaccines for herself and staff were difficult to get.

“When the hospitals around our area receive vaccines, they were focused on vaccinating their staff and left us as unaffiliated physicians to go searching and fending for ourselves,” said Dr. Kirson.

Like many other states, Illinois has opened mass vaccination sites despite a federal shortage of shots.

“Every state in the nation is experiencing this same shortage,” said Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker this week.

And yet, according to state data we looked at, more than 18,000 people from outside of Illinois have been vaccinated in the state. Vaccine tourism, as it’s being called, is raising concerns about who gets priority and where.

“Having people hopping across state lines and taking up what could be vaccinations for myself and my staff and anyone of my family members is really concerning to me,” said Spewak.

It’s unclear how many people are going out of state to get vaccinated. There’s no national data. But some states are keeping track.

In Washington, D.C., more than 24,000 non-residents got the shot. In Ohio, more than 18,000 people, and in Florida, according to state records, upwards of 52,000 people from out of state have been vaccinated. It’s something the governor there said the state would crackdown on.

"We're only doing [shots] for Florida residents,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters last week. “You've got to live here either full-time or at least part-time."

Dr. Kirson was eventually able to get her two-dose vaccination in her home state, but she says there is a growing sense of panic.

“There's also a sense that we are going to run out,” said Dr. Kirson. “I think all those things are creating this idea that people do have to seek beyond their local area to access the vaccine.”

It’s a real concern for Spewak, ahead of an appointment for her first dose.

“My worry is that there won't be enough vaccinations on that day for me to be vaccinated,” she expressed.

With President Biden’s administration’s goal of 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days in office, there’s still a long way to go.

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