“We are fortunate to have received enough vaccines to ensure both the first and second for those vaccinated. At this time, however, the majority of the State has not received an allocation of first doses of vaccines for this week and beyond, and the timing of any subsequent deliveries remains unclear,” management of Ocean Reef Club, located in north Key Largo, said in a Jan. 22 message to residents.
But that’s not all. After prioritizing vaccinating the white and rich, DeSantis’ political committee raised at least $2.7 million in the month of February alone. Records indicate this is the highest amount he has raised in a single month since he first ran for governor in 2018. After the community was vaccinated, former Republican governor of Illinois Bruce Rauner, who is also a resident of Ocean Reef, wrote the DeSantis campaign a check for $250,000.
While it is unclear where these communities got their vaccine doses from, according to the Florida Division of Elections, the only people from Key Largo who gave to DeSantis’ political committee live in Ocean Reef, the community that was prioritized for COVID-19 vaccines.
A spokesperson for DeSantis’ office told the Miami Herald the governor was not involved in selecting the Ocean Reef Club for early vaccination distributions but did not explain how they received them. “Florida was the first state to prioritize seniors,’’ she said. “The state has utilized a variety of approaches including walk-up, drive-thru, and faith-based initiatives to ensure vaccine access to all eligible Floridians, particularly in underserved communities. These efforts have resulted in Florida vaccinating over 50% of our state’s senior population — the highest of any state in the nation.”
But while DeSantis’ office claims that they have been prioritizing vaccinating seniors, data indicates otherwise. The reality is DeSantis has been prioritizing wealthy and white seniors, with vaccinations meant for rural Black communities being given to wealthy white people. State records indicate that while 17% of the state’s population is Black, by the end of February only 5.6% of those vaccinated in the state were Black. Investigations into the racial disparities of vaccinations and DeSantis’ political selection process are being called for.
But Ocean Reef isn’t the only example in which those vaccinated early in Florida were connected to DeSantis. Last month DeSantis set up a pop-up vaccine clinic for Manatee County residents. However, instead of offering the vaccinations to all those eligible in the county as advertised, the clinic was limited to people living in only two zip codes: 34202 and 34211. Those zip codes represent the most affluent areas in the county, with a majority white community. Additionally, it was noted that one of the communities with access to the vaccines DeSantis provided is home to the family of one of his biggest campaign donors.
Instead of apologizing and acknowledging his actions, DeSantis threatened to cancel the vaccine clinic after criticism from lawmakers that he was excluding some residents in the county and prioritizing the wealthy, Daily Kos reported. He then set up two other pop-up clinics with similar zip code restrictions in Charlotte and Sarasota counties, the Herald-Tribune reported. By selecting communities that get the vaccine, DeSantis not only makes political moves to his benefit but allows these residents to bypass state and local vaccine registration systems.
According to the Miami Herald, reporters have consistently requested that the DeSantis administration provide locations and criteria used to distribute COVID-19 vaccines, to no avail. To date, the state has no written criteria to determine which communities receive the pop-up vaccine clinics and why. Florida Department of Health records indicate that one-fourth of all vaccines went to Publix supermarkets, but where the stores allocated their doses remains unaccounted for.
DeSantis is clearly not only prioritizing the white and rich but profiting off of the craven move. Instead of working to vaccinate all residents in his state, DeSantis is playing political games in efforts to advance his career. Not only is he leaving out people of color and the most vulnerable in his efforts to vaccinate the rich, but DeSantis also refused to vaccinate teachers and educators under 50. As a result, CVS pharmacies in the state are taking matters into their own hands and vaccinating teachers despite age limits on vaccine recipients imposed by the state, the Associated Press reported.
CVS’s decision follows new guidance from the Biden administration on vaccinating educators and childcare workers. According to The Hill, Biden called on states to prioritize teachers for vaccinations, with a goal that every teacher get at least one dose of the vaccine by the end of March. While Florida claims it was prioritizing teachers, the state was only vaccinating K-12 school employees 50 years old and older.
With one of the highest rates of coronavirus infection, Florida still lags behind in its prevention and vaccination efforts. Since the start of the pandemic, DeSantis has actively ignored efforts to stop the spread of the virus and seems to have no intention of changing his motives. His actions need to be investigated and he must be held accountable.