DeSantis’ new rural vaccination program and the unequal world of vaccine administration

Credit: Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

Following criticism over the targeting of affluent neighborhoods for vaccine doses, Gov. Ron DeSantis plans to roll out a rural vaccination program to help target counties that lag in getting shots to residents.

Counties such as Glades, Hardee and DeSoto in the south central part of Florida have low percentages of seniors who haven’t gotten vaccines, DeSantis said at a news conference Tuesday in Miami-Dade County.

Those three counties also have high levels of poverty compared to Florida’s average, according to U.S Census data.

Gov. Ron DeSantis opens a COVID vaccine “pod” on Feb. 17, 2021, in Manatee County. Source: Screenshot/Florida Channel

Less than a week ago, DeSantis appeared in Manatee County to open a vaccine “point of distribution,” or pod, at the affluent Lakewood Ranch, which was developed by prominent businessman Rex Jensen. Showing up at the news conference was former Senate President Bill Galvano.

The situation raised questions about possible special treatment, with well-connected political and business figures helping to secure front-of-the-line doses for communities and other groups, even as other residents are struggling to get the vaccines.

Earlier in February, the governor started targeting vaccines to specific groups, such as home-bound survivors of the Holocaust, the Bay of Pigs, World War II, and the Korean War. Regarding the Bay of Pigs veterans, DeSantis said he’d been approached by Republican state Sen. Manny Diaz, Jr. and other influential Miamians to provide the vaccinations.

Since the Manatee situation, DeSantis has been trying to deflect criticism, including appearing on Fox News, a friendly national forum for the governor.

Charlie Crist
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist (D 13th). U.S. House photo.

On Sunday, Democratic Congressman Charlie Crist, a former governor and Attorney General in Florida, requested the Department of Justice to look into DeSantis’  “blatantly political” decisions about vaccine distributions, to see if the governor has violated federal law.

At DeSantis’ news conference Tuesday in Miami-Dade, a reporter asked about the “former governor” — presumably Crist — who had written to the Justice Department.

In response, DeSantis said, “You’re right. There is a political motivation.”

He added, “I’m not sure of the calculation. I mean I don’t think it’s an effective political attack to attack me for vaccinating seniors. Yes, we are aggressively vaccinating seniors.”

He continued, “We’re proud of vaccinating seniors. We’re going to keep doing it.”

That said, Florida overall continues to be an unequal world of vaccine administration, where some counties have a high percent of people vaccinated and others have a low percent.

The Florida Phoenix has been analyzing the number of people vaccinated in each Florida county, compared to the U.S Census population. That would cover the total number of adults and children, if that’s the goal to eradicate COVID-19.

In that analysis, 12.56 percent of people in all 67 counties have been vaccinated thus far, based on Feb. 22 vaccine data.

But the range is as high as 26.53 percent in Sumter County, which houses The Villages retirement community, and the low is Hendry County, at 6.37 percent. Hendry, also in south central Florida, has a high level of poverty — 19.5 percent — compared to Florida’s average of 12.7 percent.

Here’s a list of each county and the percent of people vaccinated so far:

County Total people vaccinated U.S. Census population, 2019 % of people vaccinated in county
Sumter 35,131 132,420 26.53%
Indian River 32,257 159,923 20.17%
St. Johns 52,386 264,672 19.79%
Martin 31,761 161,000 19.73%
Collier 71,718 384,902 18.63%
Gulf 2,471 13,639 18.12%
Nassau 15,522 88,625 17.51%
Flagler 19,618 115,081 17.05%
Alachua 45,200 269,043 16.80%
Palm Beach 249,314 1,496,770 16.66%
Lake 61,040 367,118 16.63%
Sarasota 71,684 433,742 16.53%
Franklin 1,973 12,125 16.27%
Jefferson 2,301 14,246 16.15%
Citrus 23,362 149,657 15.61%
Lafayette 1,257 8,422 14.93%
Charlotte 27,815 188,910 14.72%
Monroe 10,752 74,228 14.49%
Gadsden 6,579 45,660 14.41%
Leon 41,829 293,582 14.25%
Jackson 6,496 46,414 14.00%
Madison 2,576 18,493 13.93%
Calhoun 1,964 14,105 13.92%
Wakulla 4,619 33,739 13.69%
Walton 10,123 74,071 13.67%
Lee 104,923 770,577 13.62%
Taylor 2,852 21,569 13.22%
Pinellas 127,230 974,996 13.05%
Brevard 78,538 601,942 13.05%
Santa Rosa 23,938 184,313 12.99%
Marion 46,907 365,579 12.83%
Volusia 70,166 553,284 12.68%
St. Lucie 40,567 328,297 12.36%
Bay 21,184 174,705 12.13%
Escambia 38,501 318,316 12.10%
Broward 229,916 1,952,778 11.77%
Duval 111,350 957,755 11.63%
Clay 25,114 219,252 11.45%
Manatee 45,594 403,253 11.31%
Hernando 21,909 193,920 11.30%
Liberty 921 8,354 11.02%
Suwannee 4,870 44,417 10.96%
Seminole 51,199 471,826 10.85%
Highlands 11,524 106,221 10.85%
Levy 4,468 41,503 10.77%
Pasco 59,325 553,947 10.71%
Holmes 2,065 19,617 10.53%
Okaloosa 21,564 210,738 10.23%
Dade 268,337 2,716,940 9.88%
Washington 2,510 25,473 9.85%
Hamilton 1,418 14,428 9.83%
Okeechobee 4,125 42,168 9.78%
Gilchrist 1,769 18,582 9.52%
Columbia 6,644 71,686 9.27%
Bradford 2,550 28,201 9.04%
Putnam 6,726 74,521 9.03%
Desoto 3,409 38,001 8.97%
Polk 64,457 724,777 8.89%
Hillsborough 130,781 1,471,968 8.88%
Dixie 1,439 16,826 8.55%
Baker 2,458 29,210 8.41%
Orange 116,222 1,393,452 8.34%
Union 1,187 15,237 7.79%
Osceola 28,374 375,751 7.55%
Glades 1,009 13,811 7.31%
Hardee 1,817 26,937 6.75%
Hendry 2,676 42,022 6.37%
Total 2,698,591 21,477,737 12.56%
Vaccine data, 2/22/2021, from FL Department of Health
Population data from the U.S. Census
Florida Phoenix analysis relates to total population, not 65 and older

 

 

Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.