Mar 4, 2021 - Politics

Ultra-rich Florida community got COVID vaccinations in January

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis stands at a podium and speaks.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, speaks during during the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando last month. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Thousands of residents over 65 in a wealthy gated enclave in the Florida Keys had received COVID vaccines by mid-January, while most of the rest of Florida's elderly waited for their shots, report the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald.

Why it matters: The uber-rich Ocean Reef Club on Key Largo, with more than 2,100 full- or part-time members, was dubbed by the papers as "one of the highest-security private communities in the nation."

  • Ocean Reef did not respond to the Times' and Herald's request for comment on how it obtained so many vaccines so quickly.

The state of play: The only people from the area who gave to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R) political committee all live in Ocean Reef. All 17 had given contributions of $5,000 through December 2020.

  • Resident Bruce Rauner, who served as the Republican governor of Illinois and headed a Chicago private equity firm, donated $250,000 in February.

What they're saying: DeSantis spokesperson Meredith Beatrice told the papers that the governor was not involved in selecting Ocean Reef for early vaccines.

  • "This was not a state-supported senior community POD [point of distribution], nor was it requested by the governor."

The big picture: DeSantis has been criticized for steering exclusive pop-up vaccination sites to other wealthy communities in Florida — and has continually denied that politics drove the decisions.

  • Two of the wealthiest zip codes in Manatee County — both predominantly white and heavily Republican — got a pop-up site with DeSantis' assistance. The governor responded by dismissing any charges of favoritism.
  • Three other developments in the state run by Pat Neal, a politically-connected developer and former state senator who has a long history in GOP politics, also got similar vaccine sites. At the time, a DeSantis spokesman said the "insinuation" that they were "established for political purposes is completely baseless."

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