TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Since the first day Florida began receiving coronavirus vaccines, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said seniors 65 and up would be a priority, but now Democrats are criticizing him for targeting wealthy retirement communities.
DeSantis appeared at Lakewood Ranch in Manatee County on Wednesday, where a reporter questioned why he chose the community for a pop-up vaccine site. The governor replied, “Would they rather us send it to other counties?
"It was a choice about where is there a high concentration of seniors," DeSantis continued. “It wasn't choosing one ZIP code over another.”
Democrats latched on to the Republican governor's comments and said he was making threats to withhold vaccines if he was criticized. They also noted that a homebuilder in the community has been a major donor to DeSantis's political committee.
“There is no reason that Governor DeSantis should be rationing vaccines based on political influence," Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried, Florida's only statewide elected Democrat, said in a press release. “Vaccines should be distributed to counties based on need, capacity, and science.”
But DeSantis pointed out that the additional 3,000 vaccines were above what Manatee County was already receiving and not a diversion from other communities.
It's not the first time DeSantis has sent additional vaccine doses to retirement communities. He's held press conference across the state for weeks to tout his “seniors first” initiative, including at The Villages, a massive retirement community in north-central Florida, and at Sun City Center, a large retirement community near Tampa.
And on Thursday, he visited a retirement community in Pinellas County where another pop-up vaccine site was opened.
“When you're doing a site like this, this is not coming from the doses that are already in the county. This is in addition to what's already here,” DeSantis said. “This is 3,000 above and beyond.”
He said he's focusing on counties that have lagged behind other areas of the state in getting seniors vaccinated. Overall, DeSantis said 42% of the state's seniors have been vaccinated, but only 35% of Pinellas seniors have received a dose.
The state has also had a wrench thrown in the vaccination program because of shipment delays caused by bad weather elsewhere.
“The Moderna still has not shipped for this week,” DeSantis said. “It’s basically sitting in the FedEx warehouse and I don’t even think they can get into it because of everything. So that’s going to happen, whether that’s tomorrow or the weekend – some say it could even last till Monday. So I’d say if you had an appointment and the Moderna hasn’t come, just hang in there.”
Overall, Florida has had more than 1.8 million confirmed cases of coronavirus resulting in nearly 30,000 deaths.