TALLAHASSEE – Florida gets four federally backed Covid-19 vaccination centers in largely low-income communities of color, an announcement that comes after Gov. Ron DeSantis initially clashed with the Biden administration over the issue federal vaccine aid.
The new sites, which were announced on Friday, will be located in areas of Jacksonville, Tampa, Miami and Orlando, selected through a federal vulnerability index that takes into account such things as minority population, socioeconomic status and types of accommodation. When operational in about two weeks, the four sites are expected to collectively administer 12,000 vaccines per day, giving a boost to areas that have struggled the most to obtain vaccines.
The four new federal vaccination sites were selected through a partnership between Florida, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Each center will be composed mainly of federal employees and will have “spokespersons” who will reach out to the communities around the main vaccination site. These locations will be chosen by Florida officials.
The announcement was made through separate press releases sent by the DeSantis office and the White House. DeSantis made no mention of the four new federally-backed vaccination sites at a public event held shortly before their announcement. This Palm Beach County event was put together 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 about comments on the new vaccination sites, the DeSantis office referred POLITICO to public statements made by the governor at a press conference Thursday.
“They [the federal government] want to do it through FEMA, ”he said. “So we said, look, if it’s extra doses for Florida, we want to participate because we want to get as many doses as possible. [obtain]. So hopefully we can get a few here in Florida. “
Last month, DeSantis dismissively referred to the vaccination sites planned by the Biden administration as “FEMA camps.”
Her administration has taken what she calls a “senior first” approach, focusing on older populations, including going to Fox and Friends to give photos to veterans on live television. Florida has donated more than 2.6 million vaccines, but, like other states, has been criticized for racial disparities: only about 5% of vaccines went to black residents. Criticism escalated this week after DeSantis established a pop-up vaccination site in Lakewood Ranch, a rich and mostly white development in Manatee County. The move came a week after a task force set up to identify vaccination sites in minority communities said the DeSantis office did not respond when they sent their plan.
“For some reason Florida is a bit reluctant to work collectively, with a group of volunteers who have held out our arms and not our fists,” RB Holmes, pastor of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee and chairman of the group of work, said last week. “But that’s why the federal government is so important. … If it were only for the rights of the states, we would still be living under Jim Crowism.”
DeSantis said the Lakewood Ranch vaccination sites, which were facilitated by local GOP donor Pat Neal, were chosen due to a high concentration of older people and no political considerations were taken. .
This move, however, helped fuel criticism from DeSantis.
“DeSantis doesn’t want these federal sites to open in Florida, but after its stunt this week in Manatee County, it’s clear we don’t need federal help to ensure disadvantaged people have equitable access to vaccination, ”said Senator Janet. Cruz (D-Tampa). “In addition to access, federal and state partners must work together to engage in strong vaccine training 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 rushed to bolster Florida’s immunization infrastructure, even as the White House notes that the new vaccination sites are in the process of “partnership” with the State.
“The Biden administration, with our support in Congress, is increasing vaccine resources for the American people,” said Representative Val Demings, an Orlando Democrat. “I am happy to announce that one of Florida’s new community vaccination sites will be here in Orlando.”