Gov. Ron DeSantis showed again this week how not to roll out the state’s vaccination supply. Steering thousands of doses to a wealthy Manatee County neighborhood was bad enough. But facing criticism, the governor doubled down, threatening to retaliate by diverting the vaccines to other counties. This bad decision, and the governor’s petulance, will only divide Floridians at the very time residents are looking for hope and encouragement. DeSantis needs to show better judgment, more personal restraint and a greater regard for basic fairness.
The Bradenton Herald reported Wednesday that residents of Lakewood Ranch and other well-off neighborhoods in East Manatee would have special access to COVID-19 vaccines. Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh told the newspaper that DeSantis reached out to Lakewood Ranch’s developer and offered to set up an exclusive vaccination site. Baugh said that health workers at the Premier Sports Campus site in Lakewood Ranch were scheduled to inoculate 1,000 residents a day from Wednesday to Friday. Those shots were reserved solely for residents of the 34202 and 34211 ZIP codes, which cover most of the Manatee portion of Lakewood Ranch and other nearby affluent neighborhoods.
During a news conference Wednesday, DeSantis defended the decision, saying the 3,000 shots were in addition to the county’s regular weekly allotment. “It wasn’t a choice about ZIP codes,” DeSantis said. “We go where the seniors are and try to knock it out.” And if residents don’t like it, the governor added, he could send the vaccines elsewhere. “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. “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.”
The governor is spinning a decision he cannot defend and glossing over simple facts. First, there’s no such thing as extra available doses. The inventory is the inventory, and with millions of Floridians waiting for a shot, characterizing these doses as supplemental is as false as it is self-serving. Second, there’s no magic in establishing a vaccination site. Open one anywhere, and it’ll be overrun. The idea that Florida needs to scour to find a ready pocket of customers waiting for vaccine is ridiculous. And it’s an insult to health care providers across the state who are struggling to get vaccines to the homebound, migrant workers and other hard-to-reach populations.
Then there’s the bigger rub: The two ZIP codes are not only two of the county’s wealthiest, but they also weren’t the hardest hit by the pandemic. The median income in 34202 and 34211 is more than double the county’s overall median, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And the two ZIP codes recorded fewer coronavirus infections compared to other parts of the county, far below the more than 2,000 cases found in six other Manatee ZIP codes. If Manatee wanted to target hard hit areas, it would have looked at West Bradenton, Ellenton and Palmetto. Instead, the program targeted two rich ZIP codes whose residents weren’t contracting the virus as often.
Only a tiny fraction of Floridians have received the vaccine. What’s vital now, a year into the pandemic, is getting shots into arms. While the system won’t be perfect, it shouldn’t be wildly unfair, or so indiscriminate to raise public suspicions, even among locally-elected officials. Manatee could have easily administered another 3,000 doses across the county this week in a more equitable way.
DeSantis needs to adopt a better sense of right and wrong. And he needs to drop the Donald Trump routine. Flippancy and combativeness are ugly traits in elected office and certainly no help in reassuring anxious Floridians.
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