The process of distributing COVID-19 vaccines to people over 65 already presented obstacles for Hispanics: lack of supplies, systems that can be confusing for people who do not know the technology and portals to make appointments with little or no information in Spanish.

Now, as the state seeks to curb what they have labeled “vaccine tourism” where people from outside the state come to Florida to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, community leaders in Central Florida fear that disadvantaged communities will be affected.

“To begin with, the rhetoric of ’you need identification‘ represents fear in the face of a gigantic community of immigrants who may associate this with something related to their immigration status,” said Father José Rodríguez of the Jesús de Nazareth Episcopal Church. In addition, he regretted that in this precarious situation where “we must want everyone to be healthy, it is a battle to show who is from here and who is not.”

The concern arose after Gov. Ron DeSantis announced at a press conference Tuesday that the state would require identification to ensure that “only residents” received the vaccine. However, there was no executive order or written guideline for counties to abide by this order.

It was not until Thursday afternoon that an advisory from the state surgeon general, Dr. Scott Rivkees, was released, determining what type of identification would be required. The health advisory came a day after Seminole, Brevard and Volusia counties announced that they were cutting out first-dose vaccines to so-called “vaccine tourists” who come to Florida specifically for inoculation.

The “advisory” requires verification of full-time or part-time residency to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The measure seeks to prioritize Florida residents in the face of high demand for immunization against the deadly respiratory virus.

Although the order allows the use of various documents as proof of residence, the announcement could have a negative effect on the Hispanic immigrant community, newcomers and seniors living with their children, Rodríguez claimed.

Issuing that requirement without a campaign in Spanish with clear alternatives is a blow to disadvantaged communities, including older Hispanics who simply don’t have a license because “they don’t drive, they don’t pay bills at home, and they have no way of proving they live in Florida,” Rodríguez lamented.

The situation, he added, adds to a handling of the pandemic that has seen a lack of resources in Spanish to communicate crucial information during the worst health emergency in modern times.

“We always want the best for our community and vaccinating them is part of the fight we have now. Our community has been at the center of this fight against the coronavirus. Always in the red zones where the virus is identified, always last to receive information in their language from elected officials, but always affected when decisions are arbitrarily made like this. They do not think of the other who is more disadvantaged, they only think of themselves and their realities,” he added.

In response to the concern, El Sentinel Orlando contacted Central Florida emergency management officials as well as officials from Orange, Osceola, Polk and Seminole counties.

Seminole County clarified that although the registry for vaccines requires identification, preferably “a Florida driver’s license … If they can’t produce a driver’s license, a passport or other form of identification is acceptable,” said Alan Harris, manager of the Seminole County Department of Emergency Management.

“Some older people don’t have a driver’s license. In these cases, they have shown another form of identification, utility bill, mail, or something to show that they are who they say they are,“ Harris added.

Under the new rules, residents will need to provide a valid Florida driver’s license or Florida identification card; a deed, mortgage, monthly mortgage statement, mortgage payment brochure, or residential rental or lease agreement; a statement from a relative, legal guardian, or other Florida resident with whom the person lives, as well as proof of residency for that person; a utility bill or utility connection work order; mail from a financial institution; or mail from a federal, state, county, or municipal government agency.

Get them vaccinated, deal with ID’s later

Rodríguez, who has become an avid community leader in recent years, said this cannot be a situation of “us vs. them, Floridians vs. tourists, citizens and non-citizens.”

Requiring a form of identification puts thousands of immigrants on alert who may fear a problem with their immigration status and choose not to get vaccinated, Rodríguez, said.

“We are going to deny health and safety to people who just want to protect themselves against the virus. This fight leaves our people out, we are always the short fruit on the tree, the first to fall,“ he said.

Marucci Guzmán, executive director of Latino Leadership regretted this action, recognizing that trying to avoid “vaccine tourism” as this practice has been described, those who are affected are minorities, especially the Hispanic and Black community of Central Florida.

“Dr. Rivkees’ Public Health Advisory prioritizing Florida residents will have unintended consequences for communities of color. When we work with undeserved communities, we take it for granted that everyone has a Florida driver’s license or Florida ID,“ Guzmán said.

Guzmán, who also works with the services provided by Clínica Mi Salud, a health services program under the umbrella of the nonprofit organization, stressed that “research has shown that minority communities have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19″.

Like Rodríguez, she agreed that “in the midst of a pandemic, they do not need additional barriers to access a vaccine that saves their lives.”

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith concurred that “requiring proof of residency for COVID vaccines may create problems for immigrant, homeless or low income populations without flexibility for those who make a good faith effort to comply. Vulnerable residents should not and cannot be turned away.”

As people continue to search for ways to survive the pandemic, Rodríguez says that “it is not fair that now the bureaucracy is getting in the way of their health, he said. “At the end of the day, don’t we want everyone to be vaccinated?”

“This is not the time to solve an ID problem that we have always had. We cannot deny the abuela (grandmother) and abuelo (grandfather) who live with their children or grandchildren and do not have any local ID to get vaccinated. Let’s vaccinate our community, let’s work on the ID’s problem later,“ he said.

By erick