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Florida officials accused of prioritizing wealthy seniors for coronavirus vaccines

   March 6, 2021 1:10 AM
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by Bobby Caina Calvan and Adriana Gomez Licon The Associated Press

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Covid-19 Vaccines
 
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and state health officials came under deeper scrutiny amid revelations that seniors in a wealthy enclave in Key Largo received hundreds of life-saving coronavirus vaccinations as early as mid-January, giving ammunition to critics who say the Republican governor is favouring wealthy constituents over ordinary Floridians.

The revelations were the latest example of wealthy Floridians getting earlier access to vaccines, even as the state has lagged in efforts to get poorer residents vaccinated.

DeSantis pushed back Thursday, saying a local hospital — not the state — was behind the vaccinations of more than 1,200 residents of the exclusive Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, Florida, and that the state "wasn't involved in it in any shape or form."

Despite the governor's denials of quid pro quos, the charges of favouritism were amplified by money pouring into the governor's campaign coffers from wealthy benefactors with ties to communities awarded vaccination sites — like the one in Key Largo. One resident of Ocean Reef, Republican former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, last week gave the Florida governor's campaign committee $250,000.

Revelations about Ocean Reef residents getting vaccinated were first reported by the Miami Herald.

The inequitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines is becoming a public relations challenge for the governor. As of Wednesday, nearly 3.3 million Floridians had received at least one shot of the two-step vaccination process, about three-quarters of them 65 or older. But less than 6% have been Black — about a third of their share of the state's population.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried joined Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist in calling for federal officials to probe the DeSantis administration's vaccine distribution programs.

"If this isn't public corruption, I don't know what is," Fried said Thursday at a press conference in the Florida Capitol, calling on the FBI's public corruption to launch an investigation.

"Give campaign contributions big dollars, get special access to vaccines — ahead of seniors, ahead of our teachers, ahead of our farmworkers and so many of our residents here in our state of Florida who are scared and who are wanting these vaccines."

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