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:

CountyTotal people vaccinatedU.S. Census population, 2019% of people vaccinated in county
Sumter35,131132,42026.53%
Indian River32,257159,92320.17%
St. Johns52,386264,67219.79%
Martin31,761161,00019.73%
Collier71,718384,90218.63%
Gulf2,47113,63918.12%
Nassau15,52288,62517.51%
Flagler19,618115,08117.05%
Alachua45,200269,04316.80%
Palm Beach249,3141,496,77016.66%
Lake61,040367,11816.63%
Sarasota71,684433,74216.53%
Franklin1,97312,12516.27%
Jefferson2,30114,24616.15%
Citrus23,362149,65715.61%
Lafayette1,2578,42214.93%
Charlotte27,815188,91014.72%
Monroe10,75274,22814.49%
Gadsden6,57945,66014.41%
Leon41,829293,58214.25%
Jackson6,49646,41414.00%
Madison2,57618,49313.93%
Calhoun1,96414,10513.92%
Wakulla4,61933,73913.69%
Walton10,12374,07113.67%
Lee104,923770,57713.62%
Taylor2,85221,56913.22%
Pinellas127,230974,99613.05%
Brevard78,538601,94213.05%
Santa Rosa23,938184,31312.99%
Marion46,907365,57912.83%
Volusia70,166553,28412.68%
St. Lucie40,567328,29712.36%
Bay21,184174,70512.13%
Escambia38,501318,31612.10%
Broward229,9161,952,77811.77%
Duval111,350957,75511.63%
Clay25,114219,25211.45%
Manatee45,594403,25311.31%
Hernando21,909193,92011.30%
Liberty9218,35411.02%
Suwannee4,87044,41710.96%
Seminole51,199471,82610.85%
Highlands11,524106,22110.85%
Levy4,46841,50310.77%
Pasco59,325553,94710.71%
Holmes2,06519,61710.53%
Okaloosa21,564210,73810.23%
Dade268,3372,716,9409.88%
Washington2,51025,4739.85%
Hamilton1,41814,4289.83%
Okeechobee4,12542,1689.78%
Gilchrist1,76918,5829.52%
Columbia6,64471,6869.27%
Bradford2,55028,2019.04%
Putnam6,72674,5219.03%
Desoto3,40938,0018.97%
Polk64,457724,7778.89%
Hillsborough130,7811,471,9688.88%
Dixie1,43916,8268.55%
Baker2,45829,2108.41%
Orange116,2221,393,4528.34%
Union1,18715,2377.79%
Osceola28,374375,7517.55%
Glades1,00913,8117.31%
Hardee1,81726,9376.75%
Hendry2,67642,0226.37%
Total2,698,59121,477,73712.56%
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.