LAKEWOOD RANCH, Fla. – Following reports that Gov. Ron DeSantis reached out to a politically-connected developer and offered to set up an exclusive vaccination site for residents of Lakewood Ranch and other well-off neighborhoods in Manatee County, the governor threatened to pull vaccines from the area and move them to other parts of the state if residents continue to complain.
The vaccines are reserved solely for residents of two zip codes, according to the Tampa Bay Times, which cover most of the Manatee County portion of Lakewood Ranch and other wealthier neighborhoods that haven’t been hit as hard as other parts of the county.
DeSantis was asked about the criticism from the community that followed the Tuesday report during a press conference on Wednesday.
“I mean, if Manatee County doesn’t like us doing this, then we are totally fine with putting this in counties that want it,” DeSantis said. “And we’re totally happy to do that so anyone that’s saying that, let us know if you want us to send it to Sarasota next time, or Charlotte, or Pasco, wherever, let us know we’re happy to do it. But I think most people if we have an opportunity to bring vaccines and do it efficiently I think that they’re gonna want it.”
Unforced error? Famously combative with media, @GovRonDeSantis today says public criticisms about vaccine distribution in parts of Florida could divert vaccines to areas where there are no political criticisms of his efforts https://t.co/jqETqNjI9T pic.twitter.com/Idy4mfTJdk— Ted Bridis (@tbridis) February 17, 2021
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried was quick to condemn the statements from DeSantis.
“There is no reason that Governor DeSantis should be rationing vaccines based on political influence,” Fried said in a press release. “This is troubling and potentially illegal. Vaccines should be distributed to counties based on need, capacity, and science. While I am disappointed in the Governor using vaccines as a political tool, I plan on working with the Biden Administration to ensure they do not penalize Floridians for his actions and continue to ramp up vaccine distribution to all communities, so that we can get our economy and state going again.”
DeSantis said Wednesday the vaccination site set up at Premier Sports Campus at Lakewood Ranch is meant to address the high concentration of seniors living in the area. DeSantis pushed back on the claims that he set up the site because the community’s developer and residents of the community support him politically.
“It wasn’t choosing one ZIP code over another,” DeSantis said. “We wanted to find communities that had high levels of seniors, living in there and this obviously has a high concentration.”
Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh told the Times the process of implementing the new vaccine site began when DeSantis called Rex Jensen, the developer of the master-planned Lakewood Ranch community.
“People need to look at the statistics. There have been other clinics and many people out east haven’t received the vaccines and are underserved. I see it as a win-win,” Baugh told the Bradenton Herald. “This is not a negative situation.”
About 3,000 senior residents will receive the vaccine over the next three days. The state recently set up similar community “pods” in The Villages and Sun City Center.
“If there’s going to be folks that are going to complain about getting more vaccines, you know, I’ll tell you what, I mean, I wouldn’t be complaining, I’d be thankful that we’re able to do it because, you know what, we didn’t need to do this at all,” DeSantis said.