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DeSantis Answers Manatee County Vaccination Criticism, Says Wealthy Residents Were Not Targeted

man speaks in front of microphones with two men wearing masks behind him
The Florida Channel
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a COVID-19 press conference at the Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch Wednesday.

Gov. Ron DeSantis suggested diverting additional vaccine doses to different counties if Manatee residents aren’t happy with the distribution plan.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis faced questions Wednesday morning about a new COVID-19 vaccination distribution site in an upscale Manatee County neighborhood.

Reporters asked if the decision to implement an exclusive vaccine clinic in Lakewood Ranch had anything to do with individuals from the area who donated to his campaign.

DeSantis didn’t say whether or not the decision was political. Instead, he stressed that the senior citizens who live there were the reason behind the move.

“It was a choice of where there is a high concentration of seniors,” said DeSantis. “It wasn’t choosing one ZIP code over another.”

“We wanted to find communities that had high levels of seniors living there, and this (Lakewood Ranch) obviously has a high concentration,” he added. “If there were few senior citizens, then you wouldn’t have set up a pod here.”

However, residents of only two ZIP codes (34202 and 34211) are eligible for the vaccines — and both of them have fewer cases than many other ZIP codes in Manatee, according to the Florida Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard.

Both ZIP codes are among the wealthiest in Manatee, according to a report from the Tampa Bay Times, with their median income being more than twice that of the overall median income of the county.

When confronted with the criticism, DeSantis said that his team would be “totally fine with putting (vaccines) in counties that want them.”

The 3,000 vaccines, the governor pointed out, are in addition to what Manatee County already gets from the state.

“If they do not want more vaccines here, just let us know and we will make sure that it goes, because there's a lot of people that want the vaccine.”

DeSantis also said that the state was looking at setting up sites in Manatee, Sarasota, and Charlotte counties because the vaccination rates in the three were trailing other areas by a large amount.

“We have some (counties) that are going to hit 70 percent soon like St. Johns County, they’re in the mid-60s,” said DeSantis “We had seen Manatee, Sarasota, and Charlotte counties being at around 20 percent.”

The Tampa Bay Times also reported that Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said DeSantis called Rex Jensen, the president and CEO of the developer of Lakewood Ranch last week, offering to set up a site in the area.

Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz called DeSantis out on his comments, saying that he “must stop playing politics with the vaccine distribution here in Florida.”

“Threatening retribution and less vaccine access for communities that criticize the vaccine rollout for its problems is shameful and inhumane,” Diaz added.

DeSantis also spoke Wednesday about the delay of incoming vaccine doses from Pfizer and Moderna, citing the winter storms currently affecting a large portion of the country.

“If you have an appointment, like at a Publix for Thursday and they have to delay you, that is almost assuredly why,” he said. “So just have patience with it. There is nothing we can do with the weather in other states.”

With the White House ramping up the delivery of vaccines next week, DeSantis said that an additional 41,000 doses will be distributed as soon as the state receives them.

I am a WUSF Rush Family/USF Zimmerman School Digital News Intern for the spring 2022 semester; this is my second internship with the station.