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Florida Governor Accused Of 'Playing Politics' With COVID-19 Vaccine

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to the media at a COVID-19 vaccination site near the upscale Lakewood Ranch community in Bradenton, Fla., on Wednesday.
Chris O'Meara
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to the media at a COVID-19 vaccination site near the upscale Lakewood Ranch community in Bradenton, Fla., on Wednesday.

In Florida, Democrats are criticizing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who they claim is allowing politics to play a role in COVID-19 vaccine distribution. DeSantis became testy when questioned by reporters at a vaccination event near Lakewood Ranch, an upscale community on Florida's Gulf Coast.

The vaccination event was the latest in a series of state-sponsored clinics at retirement communities. Under DeSantis' "Seniors First" initiative, the COVID-19 vaccine is being made available to everyone age 65 and over in Florida — an estimated 4.5 million people.

According to the Bradenton Herald, DeSantis reached out to the developer of the Lakewood Ranch community, offering to use it as the site for a vaccination drive. Working with a county commissioner, the state reserved shots for residents of two ZIP codes in Manatee County that cover Lakewood Ranch and other well-to-do communities.

At a news conference, reporters peppered DeSantis with questions about the perception that he was favoring one community over another in a county where vaccinations have lagged behind the rest of the state. DeSantis responded by threatening to take the state's vaccination distribution effort elsewhere. "If Manatee County doesn't like us doing this," DeSantis said, "then we are totally fine putting this in counties that want it. We're totally happy to do that."

DeSantis said the 3,000 shots being made available for residents of Lakewood Ranch and nearby communities were in addition to the county's regular vaccine allotment. Commissioners in Manatee County expressed concern that the event favored wealthy neighborhoods over underserved communities.

Democrats immediately sent out news releases criticizing DeSantis for injecting politics into vaccine distribution. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who has suggested she may challenge DeSantis when he's up for reelection next year, said, "There is no reason that Governor DeSantis should be rationing vaccines based on political influence. This is troubling and potentially illegal." State Sen. Annette Taddeo said the governor owes residents of Manatee County an apology. She said, "Veiled threats should not and cannot be tolerated by any public official." Manny Diaz, the new head of Florida's Democratic Party, said DeSantis must stop "playing politics" with vaccine distribution. Diaz said, "Threatening retribution and less vaccine access for communities that criticize the vaccine rollout for its problems is shameful and inhumane."

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As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.