Florida governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican notorius for leading efforts to suppress the votes of Blacks and other Democratic-leaning groups, is again making national news for all the wrong reasons. Under his watch, vaccine drives hosted specifically for Black communities in rural Florida, members of the demographic hardest hit by COVID-19, are instead being visited by wealthy, white Floridians who are not residents of those rual communities who are then given the immunization against COVID-19 intended for local Black residents.
According to STAT News, the farming communities of Pahokee, Fla. a city in Palm Beach County, have a population of around 60% Blacks and 33% Hispanic. The report found that white residents of communities such as Stuart, West Palm Beach and Miami, traveled to the rural area for their dose of the vaccine and were privileged to receive their shots to the dismay of the intended Black and Brown residents.
STATNews also reported that in Palm Beach County where Black people make up 18% of residents and Hispanic people 21.7%, each group had only received 4.1% and 4.7% of the given vaccines respectively, as of March 1.
“It’s frustrating. But it’s the state’s decision not to allow us to do an appointment system at this location. It was their decision to make this first-come, first-serve,” Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay told the news outlet. McKinlay and Tammy Jackson-Moore, the co-founder of the Guardians of the Glades nonprofit, only learned details of the first vaccination drive the night before the event.
DeSantis recruited Publix, the supermarket chain, to facilitate the vaccine rollout and appointment scheduling. The problem for manyof Florida’s rural community residents–the nearest Publix chain is often up to or even over 20 miles away.
DeSantis said his choise of utilizing Publix was not impacted by the fact that the chain had recently donated $100K to his campaign. Despite DeSantis’ assertion, community organizers and other politicians pushed against the Publix decision, a pushback that resulted in Florida’s Division of Emergency Management setting aside vaccines for local distribution.
Because there were no event registries to determine who would be the first to get vaccinated, once the vaccine drives were initiated, residents of the community and whomever else drove up, were able to obtain the shot due on a first-come-first-serve basis. As a result, according to STAT News, numerous wealthy, whites drove miles to obtain the vaccines intended for the underserved, predominantly Black and Brown rural community.
The word of the vaccines got out to several residents of FLorida’s many wealthy, white communities, initianing vaccination road trips to these rural areas. However, according to some of those Black and Brown residents, there was barely a peep about vaccince availability.
“I don’t think there was much promotion,” said local resident Michael Assam to the news outlet as he texted friends the neccesary information.
“There’s a lot of history, there’s a lot of trauma. That is the reason why a segment of our population does not believe that they have the same privilege and access,” said Jaime-Lee Bradshaw, chief strategic initiatives officer at Community Partners of South Florida, attempting to explain the obvious privileging of white Floridians over Black Floridians in accessing the COVID-19 vaccine.
DeSantis has been previously called out for the vaccine rollout for this same behavior. The governor was accused of providing thousands of coronavirus vaccines to wealthy communites and ignoring all others. Additionally, an alleged “VIP List” existed to make sure certain persons received priority access to the COVID-19 vaccine.
According to the report spotighting DeSantis’ behavior, Republican Manatee County Commission Chairwoman Vanessa Baugh, who was responsible for fairly distributing the vaccine, instead, she created a list with her name and the names of her friends on it.
“If Manatee County doesn’t like us doing this, then we are totally fine with putting this in counties that want it and we’re totally happy to do that,” exclaimed DeSantis, showing zero remorse for privileging whites over Black and Brown rural Florida residents, and even doubling down on his actions. “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.”