Gov. DeSantis expands COVID vaccine distribution through Publix stores to northeast, southwest FL

Gov. Ron DeSantis announces expansion of COVID vaccine distribution through Publix supermarket pharmacies in Jan. 13, 2021, in Ponte Vedra Beach. Source: Screenshot/Florida Channel

The state expanded its network for delivering COVID-19 vaccine through Publix pharmacies on Wednesday into northeast and southwest Florida.

Gov. Ron DeSantis appeared at news conferences in Publix parking lots in Ponte Vedra Beach and Naples to make the announcement.

The stores provide as many as 100 or 125 shots per day, the governor said. Registration for appointments is via the Publix website, although DeSantis warned that demand far exceeds supply.

“The appointments go very quickly, so just be forewarned about that. But once they’re out of appointments, that’s just out of appointments for whatever shipment they’re getting. They’re going to be opening up to do more in the future, so just hang in there,” DeSantis said.

The program began in Citrus, Hernando, and Marion counties, later expanding to Escambia, Santa Rosa, Flagler, St. Johns, Volusia, and Collier. In all, 105 Publix pharmacies were participating as of Wednesday, DeSantis said.

Additional doses are available through hospitals, public health and community, centers, and state-run drive-through facilities. The Publix initiative targets medium-sized counties with large elderly populations that “maybe didn’t have as much vaccine prevalent,” DeSantis said.

Florida Department of Health data show 707,478 vaccines administered in Florida as of Wednesday. Those figures include 646,327 first doses, and 61,151 complete doses. Nearly 400,000 people 65 and older have been immunized, according to the health data, representing about 56 percent of the total vaccines administered overall.

Initial guidelines from the federal government suggested the states give priority, after front-line health care workers, to first-responders and other essential workers.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar rescinded that guidance on Tuesday, also announcing that the feds no longer would hold planned booster doses in reserve but would go ahead and ship them to the states.

DeSantis never accepted the initial guidance, arguing that the elderly were more at risk of serious complications or death and deserved to get shots as soon as possible.

“So we’ve led the way on this, just like we led the way with opening schools, just like we led the way in putting people back to work, just like we led the way with protecting nursing homes at the outset of this,” he said.

The federal government holds contracts with CVS and Walgreens to administer vaccine in nursing homes, but DeSantis didn’t foresee turning to them for the grocery-store initiative. “They have a mission with the long-term care and we’d like to see that mission completed,” he said.

Otherwise, “I have to put it [vaccine] where I know it’s going to go quickly, and I think Publix has proven to be the best at that. So, I think what we would do if we had more vaccine dumped is just get it to more Publixes,” DeSantis said.

Comments on the governor’s social media feeds reflected frustration at the lack of vaccine supply.

“Soooo, what about the small counties that don’t have an @Publix in them, and the public health departments that are running out of test (Bradford County), on top of the fact they ran out of vaccinations within minutes of them being available?,” one follower wrote.

Still waiting on Venice island. Thank you,” another wrote.

Still, DeSantis had his supporters, too.

“If you don’t like the job our great governor is doing find a way to get the vaccine on your own. Stop complaining you probably do not even live in Florida,” one of them contributed.

Michael Moline
Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.