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The politics of Florida ‘pop-up’ vaccination sites scrutinized

At the recent vaccine clinic in the predominately white, Republican Manatee County community of Lakewood Ranch, the Governor-inspired pop-up clinic prompted anger and accusations that Governor DeSantis was playing politics with the potentially life-saving COVID-19 vaccine.

The Governor continues to push back, stating his decision to host a vaccine clinic in an affluent community where its local developer is also known as a DeSantis donor, “wasn’t a choice about zip codes, it was a choice about where’s the highest concentration of seniors,” DeSantis said during the press conference at the community last week.

But while the Lakewood Ranch vaccine clinic continues to prompt questions and accusations over political favoritism, it’s just one of 72 locations where the state has held what’s known as “pop-up” vaccination clinics. Fifteen of these clinics have been in communities populated with seniors, which has always been a top vaccine priority group for the governor. Still, Democrats are using the moment to criticize the governor’s distribution of the vaccine.

Florida Representative Omari Hardy represents democrat-dominant Palm Beach County, where the state has held three senior community pop-up clinics. All of them were in predominately white communities and growing with registered Republicans including Century Village and Kings Point in Delray Beach.

“When the governor came down to Palm Beach County to Kings Point to vaccinate seniors, I was, of course, happy that seniors had access to the vaccine but you know what, there are hundreds of units of senior housing right off of Tamarind Avenue in West Palm Beach and those folks are majority black and brown and yet the governor was not there,” Hardy, who is a black, told us recently.

But Tampa-based political analyst Dr. Susan MacManus cautions the public about jumping to political conclusions.

“It’s easy to say it’s 100% politics. The bottom line is these are places where there are huge concentrations of older voters and right now when your priority is to get as many over 65 vaccinated as soon as possible, it makes a lot of sense to go where senior people are,” MacManus said.

To date, nearly 48,000 first dose shots have been administered to seniors during these senior-targeted pop-up clinics statewide. That’s close to 30% more first shots than those given out at the state’s 57 pop-up clinics held at minority churches. Seven of those minority church clinics were in Palm Beach County. Vaccine supplies provided to churches are typically limited to around 500 doses per church.

“It’s not good enough. The vaccination rate among African Americans and Latinos is far behind the vaccination rate of eligible white Floridians,” said Hardy adding the governor is “looking at the politics, he’s not looking at the people.”

In a partisan-divided state, it’s a controversy that will likely continue as long as vaccines are limited and political temperature is hot.

“Ahead of a Governor’s race in a year, anything the governor does will be seen as political and what he doesn’t do will be seen as political,” said MacManus.

In an emailed statement to us this afternoon, a spokesperson with the Division of Emergency Management told us:

“The state continues to work with local communities to identify additional locations for pop-up clinics and these programs are expected to continue as the state receives vaccine allocations.

The state is committed to increasing vaccine access to underserved communities and faith-based partnerships are another strategy to assist with increasing access. In addition to continuing the faith-based program, the state also working with communities to establish permanent vaccination sites in underserved communities. Last week, the Division and Florida A&M University announced that a state-supported vaccination site will open at FAMU to support underserved communities – http://www.famunews.com/2021/02/famu-to-open-community-vaccination-site-next-week/.

The state is looking forward to establishing additional sites, similar to the one at FAMU, and we remain committed to increasing vaccine access to minority communities. We will continue to work with local communities to identify how we can expand existing efforts as we continue to receive additional vaccine allocations.”

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