Gov. Ron DeSantis has turned to the friendly national forum of Fox News to control damage over reports that he has been steering still-rare doses of COVID-19 vaccines through political allies and government figures.
DeSantis was on Fox at 10 p.m. Wednesday, and back early Thursday morning, pushing for a positive story while deflecting criticisms from Florida media outlets and Democrats.
As the Phoenix has reported, a number of vaccine “points of distribution,” or pods, have gone to communities or various groups following intervention by powerful business and political figures, raising questions about special treatment at a time when getting a vaccination can be a struggle.
DeSantis’ vaccination program for homebound seniors has steered shots to around 1,000 survivors of the Holocaust, World War II, the Korean War, and the Bay of Pigs invasion. DeSantis said he’d been approached by Republican state Sen. Manny Diaz, Jr. and other influential Miamians to provide the vaccinations for the Bay of Pigs group.
DeSantis has also enlisted churches, including many with Black congregations, to distribute vaccines.
On Wednesday, following criticism that he had arranged vaccinations in an affluent Manatee County community through developer Rex Jensen, the governor’s communications office issued a revised daily schedule at 7:28 p.m. to note that he would appear on The Ingraham Angle at 10 p.m. for an interview.
He was back on Fox & Friends early Thursday morning, looking on as medical workers administered COVID vaccine to a 94-year-old World War II veteran Vern Cummings in his home in the Paradise Island Mobile Home Park in Largo.
Fox News carried that event live.
“I think it would have been forever before they got to me,” Cummings said. “I never thought the governor would be sitting in my house watching.”
On her show Wednesday night, Laura Ingraham asked DeSantis about the controversy over his selection of affluent Lakewood Ranch in Manatee County to receive vaccine.
She ran a clip of County Commissioner Misty Servia complaining “the optics are really, really bad” and that she would have preferred the shots had gone to “underserved populations.”
“You’re taking the whitest demographic, the richest demographic in Manatee County and putting them ahead of everyone else,” Servia said.
“Now we’re checking the boxes of ethnicity and color? I thought it was about the science,” Ingraham told DeSantis.
The governor in reply cast himself as science-driven, noting that he had spurned Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines in dedicating doses, after front-line medical workers and nursing home staff and patients, to people aged 65 and above because they’re most vulnerable to the coronavirus.
“We saw that we needed to get more seniors in that particular county, so we worked with some of the local neighborhoods and said, where are a lot of seniors, where can we go in and knock out several thousands very quickly and get those numbers up,” he said.
“This is one of many things we’re doing to put seniors first in Florida. We’re not going to stop until every senior that wants a shot gets a shot. And we’re not going to let some of the naysayers slow us down.”
Also on Thursday, the governor appeared in the Mainlands Community for seniors in Pinellas County to begin distributing 3,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine over the next three days.
“This whole thing — they had about a 24-hour notice to put this together,” DeSantis said during a news conference.
The crowd was decidedly friendlier than the reporters who lobbed pointed questions at the governor the day before in Manatee.
Then, DeSantis had offered to send vaccines elsewhere if Manatee officials weren’t happy with the arrangement.
“So, anyone that’s saying that, let us know if you want us to send it to Sarasota next time or Charlotte or Pasco or wherever — let us know, we’re happy to do it,” he said.
Some 42 percent of Florida’s 4.5 million seniors have had at least one shot, DeSantis said. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccine require two doses for maximum efficacy, spaced three to four weeks apart.
A massive winter storm has delayed this week’s Moderna shipment.