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DeSantis threatens to divert vaccines from Manatee after backlash on access

“Let us know if you want us to send it Sarasota or Charlotte or Pasco or wherever, let us know — we’re happy to do it,” Gov. Ron DeSantis tells reporters.
Gov. Ron DeSantis made a stop in Manatee County Wednesday morning to host a press conference at the Lakewood Ranch pop-up COVID-19 vaccination site aimed at inoculating more senior citizens. DeSantis faced criticism over the site, which stands to vaccinate some of Manatee’s wealthiest residents.
Gov. Ron DeSantis made a stop in Manatee County Wednesday morning to host a press conference at the Lakewood Ranch pop-up COVID-19 vaccination site aimed at inoculating more senior citizens. DeSantis faced criticism over the site, which stands to vaccinate some of Manatee’s wealthiest residents. [ TIFFANY TOMPKINS | Bradenton Herald ]
Published Feb. 17
Updated Feb. 17

LAKEWOOD RANCH — Facing criticism over the idea of vaccinating some of Manatee County’s wealthiest residents ahead of others, Gov. Ron DeSantis threatened to send future pop-up vaccination sites elsewhere.

Speaking at a Wednesday morning news conference at the temporary Premier Sports Campus drive-thru site, DeSantis argued that any additional shots for seniors are a benefit, noting that the 3,000 shots are in addition to the county’s regular weekly allotment.

“If Manatee County doesn’t like us doing this, then we are totally fine putting this in counties that want it. We’re totally happy to do that,” DeSantis said. “Anyone that’s saying that, let us know if you want us to send it Sarasota or Charlotte or Pasco or wherever, let us know — we’re happy to do it.”

Related: Well-off Manatee residents get special vaccine access, courtesy of DeSantis

“But I think most people — we have an opportunity to bring vaccine and do it efficiently — I think they’re going to want it,” he continued. “There’s folks that are going to complain about getting vaccines, I’ll tell you what, I’d be thankful because you know what? We didn’t need to do this at all. We saw a need and wanted to get the numbers up for seniors.”

“My concern with this is that I’ve been fighting like hell to show people that the lottery is equal and we cannot compromise the system and all of a sudden, someone is telling me we were able to pull a certain demographic out,” Commissioner Reggie Bellamy said at the time.

Board members also said they had an issue with the state choosing to vaccinate residents one of the wealthiest parts of town. Commissioner Misty Servia noted that she constantly hears from underserved residents in her district, urging her to somehow secure vaccine in the area.

The median income in the 3402 and 34211 zip codes is more than double the county’s overall median income, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

By comparison, those zip codes haven’t seen as many COVID-19 infections as other parts of the county, according to the Florida Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard. As of Tuesday afternoon, In 34202, 1,529 residents have tested positive and 1,019 have tested positive in 34211.

DeSantis downplayed those concerns Wednesday. He said the state was focused solely on boosting the percentage of senior citizens in the county who have been vaccinated.

“It wasn’t a choice about zip codes,” DeSantis explained. “It was a choice about where’s a high concentration of seniors where you can have communities provide the ability for them to go on. It wasn’t choosing one zip code over another. We go where the seniors are and try to knock it out.”

Ryan Callihan is a staff writer at the Bradenton Herald