FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suggested Wednesday that he would divert COVID-19 vaccines from communities that criticize his distribution methods, sparking complaints that he is playing politics with lifesaving medicine.
DeSantis is facing questions in Manatee County over a decision to give seniors living in two of the area’s wealthiest ZIP codes special access to the vaccine.
He brushed aside those concerns during a news conference Wednesday and then issued a warning to local officials complaining about his plan.
“If Manatee County doesn’t like us doing this, we are totally fine with putting this in counties that want it,” DeSantis said.
The governor called Rex Jensen, a developer, and arranged for 3,000 doses to be delivered to a vaccination site for Lakewood Ranch and other wealthy neighborhoods in Manatee County, the Bradenton Herald reported.
Commissioner Misty Servia told the Bradenton Herald she didn’t understand why those neighborhoods were being prioritized
“For the life of me, I can’t understand why we would vaccinate the most affluent neighborhoods in the county ahead of everyone else, especially the underserved neighborhoods and large number of manufactured home parks in our community,” Servia wrote in a text message to the Bradenton Herald.
DeSantis said the state is focusing on communities with a high concentration of seniors that are willing to help organize vaccination events, and Manatee County has trailed other parts of the state in vaccinating residents 65 years and older. He said the 3,000 doses are in addition to the county’s weekly allotment.
The state has set up similar sites at the 55-and-up Kings Point community in Palm Beach County, Sun City Center in Hillsborough and The Villages mega-retirement community, DeSantis said.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said she has concerns that DeSantis has shown favoritism to political supporters and wealthy communities.
“To threaten that he would pull vaccine if people don’t like the way the distribution system is working is vile and shows the callous indifference he has had in how the vaccine has been handled,” she said.
Nikki Fried, Florida’s Democratic agriculture commissioner, condemned DeSantis' remarks in a statement.
“There is no reason that Gov. DeSantis should be rationing vaccines based on political influence,” she said. “This is troubling and potentially illegal. Vaccines should be distributed to counties based on need, capacity, and science.”
DeSantis also faced criticism in Palm Beach County for routing vaccine distribution primarily through Publix pharmacies, leaving poor and rural areas uncovered. DeSantis responded by setting up a vaccination site in Pahokee, an underserved community in the Glades.
He said Wednesday that local officials should be grateful for extra doses they receive for special vaccination sites.