Weeks after Publix donated $100,000 to a political action committee (PAC) supporting his re-election, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis awarded the grocery an exclusive right to distribute vaccinations in Palm Beach County, according to a report by CBS’ “60 Minutes.”
Looking at vaccine equity in the Sunshine State, “60 Minutes” highlighted how the governor’s decision further exacerbated vaccine access for Black people in the state.
Both Publix and DeSantis refuted the claims made in the story.
During the segment, State Rep. Omari J. Hardy said that Black and other people of color bore the pandemic’s full brunt, but did not have the same access to the vaccine.
Hardy said the focus on vaccine mistrust among Black and other people of color obscured equity issues.
Palm Beach Mayor Keith James echoed Hardy’s sentiments and told “60 Minutes” that the initial vaccine rollout favored a neighboring wealthy community. The county health director apologized for what they called a “miscommunication,” but James said that kind of mistake never benefits poor people. James also recounted an instance where board members and donors to a local senior home received vaccinations, instead of going to the residents.
Organizers like Tammy Jackson-Moore have worked with seniors in the Glades community to make vaccine appointments. She said the switch to having vaccines through Publix posed an issue as there was no Publix in the community.
Representing District 6, which includes the Glades, Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay echoed the equity concerns. The Glades is majority Black and Latino and over 40% of the population lives in poverty. McKinlay is credited with helping to get a vaccine location setup in the Glade community of Pahokee.
Monday afternoon, McKinlay pushed back on the Palm Beach County Mayor’s claims the 60 Minute story was “inaccurate.” McKinlay said the governor claimed he spoke to everyone in the county, and he did not. She also explained that the mayor said the governor’s staff asked the meeting between the governor and the mayor be kept private.
A March investigation by a local West Palm Beach news outlet found people were traveling to the Pahokee site from outside of the Glades area.
The news comes after months of criticism of the governor for failing to ensure vaccine equity. Local elected officials and doctors have been calling on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to prioritize vaccine equity since the vaccines were first made available to the state. DeSantis has also been accused of using the vaccines to position himself for re-election next year.
Confronted by “60 Minutes” at an event, DeSantis denied any “pay for play” in the January contract with Publix. He also claims he shifted vaccines to Publix after consulting “all the folks in Palm Beach County,” but McKinlay told “60 Minutes” he did not speak to her.
Last month, a developer who donated to DeSantis and Manatee County commissioner who donated helped arrange a vaccine event that was available only to people of two wealthy zip codes. News reports indicate that texts showed that the developer and the commissioner wanted to use the event to bolster DeSantis’ image.
Recent data from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that White people in Florida received a greater share of the vaccination than their population share. The report showed that white people received 80% of the vaccinations but only account for 40% of all COVID-19 cases and 56% of the deaths. By contrast
“This is a once-in-a-century pandemic,” Hardy told “60 Minutes.” “Someone shouldn’t have a better chance to survive because they have money or because they can write a check to someone, or because they have access to powerful people.”