DeSantis reverses course as Florida snags federal vaccine sites

3

Last month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis dismissively referred to the Biden administration’s planned vaccine sites as “FEMA camps.” | Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP

02/19/2021 03:44 PM EST

Updated 02/19/2021 04:18 PM EST

TALLAHASSEE — Florida is getting four federally-backed Covid-19 vaccination hubs in largely low-income communities of color, an announcement that comes after Gov. Ron DeSantis initially clashed with the Biden administration over federal vaccine help.

The new sites, which were announced Friday, will be in areas of Jacksonville, Tampa, Miami and Orlando picked through a federal vulnerability index that considered things like minority population, socioeconomic status and housing types. When up and running in roughly two weeks, the four sites are expected to collectively give 12,000 daily vaccines, giving a boost to areas that have most struggled to secure vaccines.

The four new federal vaccination locations were selected as part of a partnership between Florida, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Each hub will be staffed predominantly by federal employees and have “spokes” that reach out to communities around the main vaccine location. Those locations will be selected by Florida officials.

The announcement was made through separate press releases sent by DeSantis’ office and the White House. DeSantis made no mention of the four new federally backed vaccination sites during a public event held shortly before they were announced. That event in Palm Beach County was set up by DeSantis’ taxpayer-funded office, but had the appearance of a campaign rally, including a cheering audience and at least one attendee wearing a shirt that said “Masks are Slavery.”

When asked for comment about the new vaccine sites, DeSantis’ office referred POLITICO to public statements the governor made during a Thursday press conference.

“They [the federal government] do want to do it through FEMA,” he said. “So we said, look, if it’s additional doses for Florida, we want to participate because we want to get as many doses as we can [obtain]. So we hope to be able to get some of those here in Florida.”

Last month, DeSantis dismissively referred to the Biden administration’s planned vaccine sites as “FEMA camps.”

His administration has taken what it calls a “senior first” approach, focusing on elderly populations, including going on Fox and Friends to give shots to war veterans on live television. Florida has given more than 2.6 million vaccines, but, like other states, has faced criticism for racial disparities: only roughly 5 percent of vaccines have gone to Black residents. The criticism intensified this week after DeSantis established a pop-up vaccine site in Lakewood Ranch, a wealthy, predominantly white Manatee County development. The move came one week after a task force set up to identify vaccination sites in minority communities said DeSantis’ office did not respond when they sent their blueprint.

“For some reason, Florida is a little hesitant about working collectively, with a group of volunteers who reached out our arms and not our fists,” R.B. Holmes, the pastor of the Tallahassee-based Bethel Missionary Baptist Church and chairman of the task force, said last week. “But that’s why the federal government is so important. … If it were just states’ rights, we’d still be living under Jim Crowism.”

DeSantis said the Lakewood Ranch vaccination sites, which were facilitated by local GOP donor Pat Neal, were picked because of a high concentration of elderly people and no political considerations were made.

That decision, however, has helped fuel DeSantis’ critics.

“DeSantis doesn’t want these federal sites to open in Florida but after his stunt this week in Manatee County, it’s crystal clear that we do not need federal assistance to ensure the underserved have equitable access to the vaccination,” said state Sen. Janet Cruz (D-Tampa). “In addition to access, federal and state partners need to work together to engage in robust vaccine education to build trust in communities of color.”

Florida Democrats who have long been critical of DeSantis’ pandemic response, framed the announcement as the Biden administration swooping in to bolster Florida’s vaccine infrastructure, even as the White House notes the new vaccination sites are being done in “partnership” with the state.

“The Biden Administration, with our support in Congress, is surging vaccine resources to the American people,” said Rep. Val Demings, an Orlando Democrat. “I am pleased to report that one of Florida’s new Community Vaccination Sites will be here in Orlando.”

View original post