A South Florida Health System is disputing Gov. Ron DeSantis’ claim made at a Thursday press conference, where he said his administration had nothing to do with the decision to send 1,200 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to a luxury Key Largo community, according to a report from the Sun Sentinel.
At the press conference, the Governor blasted the Miami Herald for reporting that some wealthy enclaves, which contained many hefty campaign donors, received early shipments. He said the programs highlighted by the Herald were not operated by the state, but instead were operated by a hospital that received early vaccine shipments.
However, Baptist Health System is refuting the role DeSantis’ administration played in distributing the vaccine to one such enclave — the Key Largo Ocean Reef Club.
In a statement from Baptist Health South Florida spokesperson Dori Alvarez to the Sun Sentinel, the health system said the state was involved in the decision and the hospital system assisted only in the logistics of delivering doses already earmarked by the state for Ocean Reef.
“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,” Alvarez wrote in an email to the Sun Sentinel.
But, the Governor’s Office is sticking by its claim.
“The Governor’s office statement from yesterday still stands, which is: This was not a state supported senior community vaccination site, nor was it requested by the Governor,” Meredith Beatrice, a spokeswoman for DeSantis, told the Sentinel.
The Miami Herald report the Governor attacked earlier this week stated that Ocean Reef’s residents received 1,200 doses in January, ahead of most communities in the state. It also found that a month later, Ocean Reef resident and former Republican Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner wrote DeSantis’ political committee a $250,000 check. That donation came on top of donations of $5,000 each from 17 Ocean Reef residents through December.
This isn’t the first time the Governor has come under fire for vaccine allocation. In February, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist sent a letter to acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson asking to investigate concerns over favoritism in DeSantis’ vaccine distribution in Manatee County.
The call for an investigation came after the Governor announced a community POD negotiated through Lakewood Ranch developer Rex Jensen. The site controversially served only residents of two wealthy ZIP codes, providing about 3,000 vaccines for COVID-19 to residents in the area age 65 and older.
Florida House Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby also blasted DeSantis after he made the announcement of the Lakewood Ranch vaccine site.
At the moment there are are numerous vaccine programs run by the state, counties, the federal government and in some cases by hospitals, under myriad rules. The state program, dominant now, started with just seniors, but this week DeSantis opened it to educators, law enforcement officers, and firefighters as young as 50.