Compared to federal vaccination programs, state programs under Gov. Ron DeSantis have been uncoordinated, nontransparent, confusing, and marked by political favoritism, three Democratic members of Congress charged Monday.
The result has been unnecessary peril for Floridians and for the state’s economy, charged, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg, the former Governor who might run against DeSantis in 2022, along with U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston and Darren Soto of Kissimmee.
“I wish that this Governor would understand that this is a time for empathy, a time for compassion,” Crist said.
The trio praised federal COVID-19 vaccination centers run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in what Wasserman Schultz called “a professionally, equitably and in a well-coordinated and responsive manner,” which adapted on the fly, providing vaccines to teachers, first responders and people with fragile medical conditions when the state would not. They also praised chain pharmacies, notably CVS and Walgreens, for rejecting DeSantis’ vaccination priorities and following federal guidelines. They credited Publix for creating a statewide plan for the distribution of the vaccines when the state did not provide one.
They contrasted that with Florida’s state-run effort, which started rigidly offering vaccines only to seniors, changed with little notice, and drew multiple reports, which DeSantis has denied or downplayed, of vaccine political favoritism. They accused DeSantis of not having a plan, of appearing unconcerned about confusion and frustration among Floridians, and of lying about what was going on.
“Contrast (the federal response) with vaccine rollout under Gov. DeSantis, which has been marked by favoritism, frustration. There has been little to no transparency from the state. And the coordination is so lax it’s not clear Florida really knows where vaccines are going,” Wasserman Schultz said.
“With DeSantis, the reflective response is retaliation or misrepresentation, or just flat-out lying,” she said. “DeSantis’ behavior is the kind reckless behavior that costs lives.”
The Governor’s office responded Monday by counter charging that Crist, Wasserman Schultz, and Soto were giving undeserved credibility to inaccurate news accounts, which had suggested DeSantis had anything to do with vaccination efforts being run in gated communities. They also were not crediting him with making sure seniors got vaccinated first.
“These politicians are perpetuating what is clearly a manufactured narrative with political motivation,” said spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice. “Leadership matters and because of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ commitment to ensuring vaccine access to all seniors — regardless of background, income or ZIP code — millions of seniors have received the vaccine, resulting in nearly 60% of our state’s senior population being vaccinated, the highest in the nation.”
The trio of Democratic Congress members also touted the imminent approval of President Joe Biden‘s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, the American Rescue Plan bill that Democrats have been pushing through along party lines.
And they criticized DeSantis and Senate President Wilton Simpson‘s intentions to use some of the $17.3 billion state allocation expected to go to Florida to ease the unemployment tax burdens on businesses in Florida. They said they were not sure that was legal, and, at any rate, Congress intends for the money to help front-line workers keep their jobs, not to reduce taxes on businesses.
“We’re in a pandemic. EMTs, nurses, firefighters, cops, and teachers are on the front lines. They’re the ones rescuing Floridians. They’re the ones putting shots in arms. They’re the ones teaching out kids.” Soto said. “We need them all on the job, on that front line, so that we can recover. Cuts in these areas will mean lives. It will mean more folks getting sick. And it will mean a longer recovery. And God knows every Floridian wants to recover as soon as possible from this pandemic.”