Publix grocery chain pharmacies in Florida were chosen to distribute nearly a quarter of all COVID-19 vaccines in the state weeks after the company donated $100,000 to a PAC supporting GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, “60 Minutes” reported Sunday.
The money trail was one of several linking wealthy supporters of DeSantis to special vaccine access, whether it was a greenlight to boost business as a vaccine provider, or special access to getting the shots.
In another example, the wealthy Republican city of Palm Beach was given 1,000 vaccine doses from an early, limited supply, the TV news show reported. A number of communities of color in the county, meanwhile, lagged far behind in access to the vaccines as Publix, the state’s largest supermarket chain, was allowed to decide on its own where to focus its efforts to distribute the vaccinations.
Reporter Sharyn Alfonsi compared the situation to a free-for-all “Hunger Games,” with desperate Floridians scrambling for vaccinations and wealthy GOP contributors almost always coming out on top.
The story built on local media reports about special access to vaccines to GOP donors. Those earlier stories triggered a call last month for an investigation into “red carpet vaccine distribution” by state Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried, who also serves as Florida’s consumer watchdog.
Fried cited reports that included nearly every individual over the age of 65 in Ocean Reef Club, a wealthy Key Largo enclave of GOP contributors, received vaccines by the middle of January. At the same time, people in most of the rest of the state were desperately scrambling to obtain vaccines.
“If this isn’t public corruption, I don’t know what is,” Fried said at a press conference in early March.
DeSantis and his top health official vehemently denied the “60 Minutes” report of special treatment for Republican contributors. Cornered on the Publix contribution, DeSantis repeatedly called it “wrong” and a “fake narrative.”
Florida Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist had another word for it: “Appalling.”
“In Gov. DeSantis’s Florida, money and power rule and everyone else is at the back of the line,” Crist said in a statement. “This callous, cruel and compassionless policy makes ‘Hunger Games’ an apt metaphor.”
#60Minutes made it crystal clear.
In @GovRonDeSantis‘s Florida, the wealthy get early access to vaccines.
For everyone else… it’s the Hunger Games.
Floridians deserve better.
— Charlie Crist (@CharlieCrist) April 4, 2021
Publix, which has stores throughout the Southeast, on Sunday denied any link between the company’s political contribution and its lucrative vaccine contract. It called the suggestion that there is a connection “irresponsible.”
In a statement to 60 Minutes, Publix says there is no connection between the supermarket chain’s campaign contributions and its partnership with the state to administer the vaccine. The company’s full statement can be read here: https://t.co/gyrW9hYPTg
— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) April 4, 2021
Florida has had more than 2 million cases of COVID-19 and close to 34,000 deaths.
The entire “60 Minutes” report on the COVID-19 vaccine in Florida can be seen below.
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