Feb 17, 2021 - Politics

DeSantis faces backlash over COVID vaccine site for wealthy community

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference on Jan. 6. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) had a hand in setting up a COVID vaccination site exclusively for two of the wealthiest zip codes in Manatee County, according to the Bradenton Herald.

Why it matters: The county has spent weeks trying to convince its 180,000 residents who are 65 and older and have signed up for the state's Vaccine Standby Pool that the selection process is random.

  • Lakewood Ranch is predominantly white and heavily Republican — and developed by Rex Jensen, a DeSantis campaign contributor, per the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
  • The median income in the two zip codes is more than double the county’s overall median income. Both zip codes haven’t seen as many COVID cases as other parts of the county.

What happened: County commissioners expressed shock that their colleague, Vanessa Baugh, had been working with the governor’s office and Jensen to establish the site.

  • "I've been fighting like hell to show people that the lottery is equal and we cannot compromise the system,” Commissioner Reggie Bellamy said.
  • "There is no reason that Gov. DeSantis should be rationing vaccines based on political influence," added Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. "This is troubling and potentially illegal."

The other side: Answering to charges of favoritism, DeSantis threatened to send future pop-up vaccination sites elsewhere.

  • "If Manatee County doesn’t like us doing this, then we are totally fine putting this in counties that want it," he said.

Adding insult to injury: Late Wednesday, the Herald also reported that Baugh created a VIP list of Lakewood Ranch residents she wanted vaccinated, including Jensen, Jensen's father, and herself.

This story first appeared in the Axios Tampa Bay newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.


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