County Contradicts Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Says State Authorized Vaccines for Rich Community

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' claim that he played no role in the early distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to an affluent community has reportedly been contradicted by county officials.

A Miami Herald article published last Wednesday revealed that over 1,200 residents of Key Largo's wealthy Ocean Reef Club community had been vaccinated while doses were in short supply in mid-January. During a Thursday press conference, DeSantis insisted that the clinic "was not a site that we were involved in," while calling the article a "major failure" and a "poorly executed hit piece."

Local county officials and a spokesperson for Baptist Health Systems, the company that distributed the vaccine doses, contradicted the Republican governor's denial in an article published by the Herald on Saturday.

"The where, when and how many vaccines that are shot in the arms of my constituents are first decided at the state level to wherever they determine is highest and best use, and are also allocated to our Health Department, which is state run, and our Emergency Management," Monroe County Commissioner Mike Forster told the paper.

"It is our understanding that the Medical Center at Ocean Reef asked the State of Florida for vaccine doses, and the State of Florida asked Baptist Health to take delivery of the doses to our ultra-cold freezer storage for delivery to the Medical Center at Ocean Reef,'' Baptist Health Systems spokesperson Dori A. Alvarez added in a statement to the Herald and The Tallahassee Times.

Ron DeSantis COVID-19 Vaccines Coronavirus Wealthy Clinics
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida on February 26, 2021. Joe Raedle/Getty

A spokesperson for the Florida Division of Emergency Management told the papers that neither it nor the Florida Department of Health had "directed" Baptist Health Systems to distribute the doses. With Monroe County officials also denying involvement and DeSantis claiming last week that the state was not involved "in any way, shape, or form," it is not clear who authorized the distribution.

Residents of the Ocean Reef Club reportedly included the only people from Key Largo to donate to DeSantis' political committee, with 17 residents each giving over $5,000 and as much as $250,000. Critics have also pointed to other early vaccination sites with apparent ties to DeSantis donors, although no similar connections appear to exist at many other sites.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said that DeSantis had "set up invite-only vaccine clinics in upscale communities" on Monday, while accusing the governor of "retaliation, or misrepresentation, or just flat out lying" when confronted with criticism of the clinics, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.), himself a former GOP Florida governor, said that clinics were set up "so the governor's friends and donors could jump the line in front of every other senior."

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried, the state's top Democratic official and a potential 2022 gubernatorial opponent of DeSantis, has called for a federal investigation of the governor. Fried said that Florida's vaccine distribution had been steered towards "very exclusive zip codes" while describing the process as "public corruption on its face" during a Monday appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe.

Newsweek reached out to the office of DeSantis for comment.

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