DeSantis threatens to withhold COVID vaccine over complaints - South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Category: News & PoliticsVia: larry-hampton • one week ago • 1 comments
By: Skyler Swisher, Steven Lemongello, Richard Tribou (sun-sentinel. com)
By Skyler Swisher, Steven Lemongello and Richard TribouSouth Florida Sun Sentinel| Feb 17, 2021 at 4:39 PM Governor Ron DeSantis threatens to withhold COVID-19 vaccines from communities that criticize distribution.
Gov. Ron DeSantis defended his decision Wednesday to steer COVID-19 vaccine to a planned community with family ties to a Republican power couple, threatening to pull doses if local officials criticize his distribution methods.
DeSantis is facing questions over his decision to provide seniors living in two of Manatee County's wealthiest ZIP codes with special access to the vaccine.
The pop-up vaccination site is serving residents of Lakewood Ranch, a planned community in Southwest Florida with family ties to Liz and Dick Uihlein. The New York Times dubbed the pair "the most powerful conservative couple you've never heard of."
The couple's list of political contributions includes $900,000 Dick Uihlein gave to DeSantis' political committee in 2018 and 2019.
DeSantis brushed aside concerns of political favoritism during a news conference Wednesday and then issued a warning to local officials complaining about his plan.
"If Manatee County doesn't like us doing this, we are totally fine with putting this in counties that want it," DeSantis said.
The governor called the developer Rex Jensen and arranged for 3,000 doses to be delivered to a vaccination site for Lakewood Ranch and other wealthy neighborhoods in Manatee County, the Bradenton Herald reported. Jensen is the president and CEO of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, the parent company of the planned Lakewood Ranch community in Southwest Florida.
Manatee County Commissioner Misty Servia told the Bradenton Herald she didn't understand why those neighborhoods were being prioritized
"For the life of me, I can't understand why we would vaccinate the most affluent neighborhoods in the county ahead of everyone else, especially the underserved neighborhoods and large number of manufactured home parks in our community," Servia wrote in a text message to the Bradenton Herald.
DeSantis said the state is focusing on communities with a high concentration of seniors that are willing to help organize vaccination events, and Manatee County has trailed other parts of the state in vaccinating residents 65 years and older. He said the 3,000 doses are in addition to the county's weekly allotment.
The state has set up similar sites at the 55-and-up Kings Point community in Palm Beach County, Sun City Center in Hillsborough and The Villages mega-retirement community, DeSantis said.
Lakewood Ranch's parent company, Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, is owned by the Uihlein family. While a precise breakdown of family ownership is unclear, family members Liz and Dick Uihlein of Illinois are some of the biggest Republican donors in the country, giving $26 million nationally to more than 60 congressional candidates.
Dick Uihlein also contributed $900,000 to the Friends of Ron DeSantis political committee in 2018 and 2019, according to its filings.
Liz Uihlein was also one of the biggest critics of anti-COVID-19 lockdowns, calling the pandemic "overhyped" in April. Dick Uihlein is a descendant of a founder of the Schlitz Brewing Co.
Lisa Barnott, a spokeswoman for Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, wrote in an email that Liz and Dick Uihlein are not shareholders in the company.
"The state [Gov. DeSantis] called our CEO and asked to hold a pop-up clinic in Lakewood Ranch," she wrote "We connected them with our county commissioner, who coordinated the use of the county-owned Premier Sports Campus."
Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said on Wednesday she has concerns that DeSantis has shown favoritism to political supporters and wealthy communities.
"To threaten that he would pull vaccine if people don't like the way the distribution system is working is vile and shows the callous indifference he has had in how the vaccine has been handled," she said.
Nikki Fried, Florida's Democratic agriculture commissioner, condemned DeSantis' remarks in a statement.
"There is no reason that Gov. DeSantis should be rationing vaccines based on political influence," she said. "This is troubling and potentially illegal. Vaccines should be distributed to counties based on need, capacity, and science."