Ron DeSantis this week defended the choice to open a vaccine "pop-up" in a wealthy community that he said was targeted at seniors

By Virginia Chamlee
February 18, 2021 04:55 PM
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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
| Credit: Chris O'Meara/AP/Shutterstock

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis drew the ire of state Democrats over remarks this week defending the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in a wealthy community that he said was targeted at seniors.

In a press conference on Wednesday, DeSantis was asked about the criticism after announcing that a "pop-up" vaccination spot would be open to those living in two affluent Florida ZIP codes. 

Manatee County announced the vaccination location at Lakewood Ranch the previous day. 

Members of the county commission said that that coronavirus cases in the two ZIP codes chosen for the vaccine pop-up totaled approximately 2,548 people (a fraction of the cases county's overall cases). 

According to local TV station WTVT, the residents who live in the two ZIP codes selected to get the pop-up vaccine program are 90 percent white, with median annual incomes of more than $100,000.

"You're taking the whitest and richest demographic in Manatee County and putting them ahead of everyone else," Commissioner Misty Servia, who is a Republican, said in the meeting, as reported by the outlet.

In response to the criticism from Manatee County officials, DeSantis said Wednesday the areas were chosen because of their "high concentration of seniors" — which he has said is his focus — and he suggested that he would divert the vaccines from areas that criticize his distribution methods.

Older people are more susceptible to severe cases of COVID-19 and have been prioritized for the vaccine.

"If Manatee County doesn't like us doing this, then we are totally fine with putting this in counties that want it," DeSantis said.

He reiterated the statement moments later, saying, "Anyone in Manatee ... if they don't want us doing it, then just tell us and we'll make sure that that that we send those doses to folks who want it."

The vaccines being used at the Manatee County site come via a state supply and, at his Wednesday press conference, DeSantis noted that the shots given at the site will be in addition to the county's regular allotment being distributed elsewhere.

DeSantis also defended his decision to work with the development firm behind the affluent community of Lakewood Ranch.

Lakewood Ranch, which CNN noted sells homes ranging from the $180,000s to more than $1 million, will host the "pop-up" vaccination spot. A spokesperson for the development told CNN they only worked with officials to identify a suitable location.

When asked whether the selection was a political one, DeSantis said Wednesday he "didn't understand the accusation," arguing, "It wasn't a choice about ZIP codes, it was a choice about where's a high concentration of seniors where you could have communities provide the ability for them to go."

Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz gave a scathing criticism of DeSantis following the Wednesday press conference, saying the governor "must stop playing politics with the vaccine distribution."

"Threatening retribution and less vaccine access for communities that criticize the vaccine rollout for its problems is shameful and inhumane," Diaz said in the statement. "Vaccine access is a life or death situation for so many Floridians, yet somehow Governor DeSantis thinks it is okay to play favorites and punish anyone who criticizes him or his vaccine program. This must stop."

A spokesperson for DeSantis did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for further comment.

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