DeSantis called out for ‘favoritism’ in Florida vaccine rollout

A 'VIP list' was created to ensure the vaccine would go to specific neighborhoods

Gov. Ron DeSantis is in hot water for unfairly distributing the COVID-19 vaccine to Florida residents.

The governor is being accused of providing thousands of coronavirus vaccines to a couple of the state’s wealthiest communities and neglecting others. According to reports, a “VIP list” was created to ensure the immunization would go to specific neighborhoods.

“I do everything I am supposed to do like wear my mask when I go out, wash my hands constantly, and avoid big groups,” said Jane McPherson, who put her name on a standby list for seniors to receive the vaccine, to The Daily Beast. “I’ve lived here 50 years and I know people from out of state who have come here and gotten the vaccine. It pisses me off.”

As McPherson waited for an appointment, the governor sent 3,000 doses to seniors living in two well-to-do zip codes, 34202 and 34211 in Lakewood Ranch near Bradenton in southeastern Manatee County. The community was developed by the Uihlein family, who donated to DeSantis’ campaign.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has drafted a proposal in response to police brutality protests that took place this summer in the wake of the May 25 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis officers.(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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The grocery giant Publix was selected to exclusively distribute the vaccine after allegedly donating $100,000 to the Friends of DeSantis campaign.

“If he had extra vaccines, DeSantis should have given it to the people in the standby pool, not call a developer,” said 84-year-old Cindy Dunbar. “The whole thing was a scheme to give it to wealthy residents.”

Republican Manatee County Commission Chairwoman Vanessa Baugh was called upon to help fairly disburse the doses, but instead, she created a list with her name on it and her friends.

When the governor learned folks criticized how the vaccine was being dispersed, he became defensive.

“If Manatee County doesn’t like us doing this, then we are totally fine with putting this in counties that want it and we’re totally happy to do that,” exclaimed DeSantis at a press conference. “So anyone that’s saying that let us know, if you want us to send it to Sarasota next time or Charlotte or Pasco or wherever let us know; we’re happy to do it.”

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Initially, Baugh thought their distribution plan was “a great idea,” per WFLA, but during a meeting on Thursday and after receiving backlash, she spoke differently.

“I want to apologize to all the residents I have disappointed, according to some news outlets,” Baugh said at Thursday’s public meeting. “It is true that I sent the email because I wanted to make sure certain people were on the list.”

DeSantis is denying the claims and Publix denies colluding with him.

Dr. Jill Roberts of the University of South Florida claims it is already to struggle for seniors to use the internet to make an appointment, so potentially showing favoritism does not help.

“Favoritism continues to erode the public’s trust in the system which should be providing equality for all,” said Roberts. “Obviously, vaccines should continue to go to those with the greatest need and never those with the greatest dollars.”

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