The enclave of the prosperous Florida Keys obtained vaccines off a lot of the state in January

MIAMI – When Florida’s oldest residents struggled to sign up for the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, nearly all over 65s in an affluent closed enclave in the Florida Keys had been vaccinated by mid-January, according to a report. Receive newsletters from the Miami Herald.

The management of the Ocean Reef Club in north Key Largo also admitted in the January 22nd message to residents that the rest of the state was struggling with the vaccine.

“In the past two weeks, the medical center has vaccinated over 1,200 homeowners who qualify under current Florida governor ordinance for anyone age 65 or older,” the message said.

“We are fortunate to have received enough vaccines to guarantee both the first and second vaccines. However, at this point, the majority of the state has not received an allocation of the first vaccine doses for this week and beyond, and the timing of subsequent deliveries remains unclear. “

Neither the Ocean Reef media representative nor medical center officials immediately returned phone and email messages to answer questions about how many vaccines had been received before the rest of the state.

The Ocean Reef Club is an ultra-exclusive neighborhood that is arguably one of the most private and most secure communities in the nation. According to Sotheby’s International Realty, more than 2,100 members live there, full or part time. It is also where the very wealthy and dignitaries, including President Joseph Biden, stay when they visit the Florida Keys.

Many wealthy Florida Republican Party donors and GOP candidates live there, including Governor Ron DeSantis.

In fact, the only Key Largo people who gave anything to the DeSantis Political Committee live on Ocean Reef. All 17 had made contributions of $ 5,000 each to the governor by December 2020, according to the Florida Electoral Department.

On February 25, Bruce Rauner, a former resident of Ocean Reef, former Republican governor of Illinois and former chairman of Chicago-based private equity firm GTCR, increased his contribution and wrote a check for $ 250,000.

Since DeSantis has been using the state vaccine initiative to drive special pop-up vaccinations for selected communities, its political committee has raised $ 2.7 million in February alone, more than any other month since it first started for ran for governor, as records show.

A governor’s spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to email and phone messages, but after the story was released, DeSantis spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice said the governor was not involved in selecting the Ocean Reef Club for early vaccine distribution. She did not explain how the club received so many cans in front of others.

“This was not a government sponsored POD of the senior community [point of distribution]”Nor was it requested by the governor,” Beatrice said in an email.

“Florida was the first state to prioritize seniors,” she added. “The state has taken a variety of approaches, including walk-through, drive-through, and faith initiatives, to ensure vaccine availability for all eligible Floridians, especially in underserved communities. These efforts have resulted in Florida vaccinating over 50 percent of our state’s elderly population – the highest of any state in the country. “

The governor’s spokesmen did not immediately respond to emails and phone messages asking for comments on the Ocean Reef vaccines.

By manually selecting communities, DeSantis enables residents to bypass state and local vaccine registration systems and go directly through their community organizations like the Medical Center on Ocean Reef.

Last month, a high-end community developed by the Pat Neal Republican fundraiser was selected by DeSantis to host a pop-up vaccination clinic near Bradenton. Only people from two zip codes were eligible to receive the vaccine on the Lakewood Ranch property, and the names were chosen by Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, who added herself to her vaccine shortlist.

DeSantis selected two other Neal developments for pop-up sites in Counties Charlotte and Sarasota. Campaign funding data shows that Neal, a former senator, donated $ 125,000 to DeSantis’ political committee in 2018 and 2019, but has reportedly not made any contribution since then.

The effort has put DeSantis’s critics to the test, as the distribution of the state’s vaccines appears to be uneven. As of late February, only 5.6 percent of those vaccinated in the state are black, although blacks make up 17 percent of the state’s population, state records show.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the state’s senior Democrat, called for an investigation into Lakewood Ranch clinics and called on DeSantis to suspend Baugh from the Manatee County Commission.

Governor’s spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice defended the pop-up clinics, telling the Sarasota Herald Tribune last week that of the 15 pop-up clinics aimed at seniors, nine were in Broward and Palm Beach counties found “not known as Republicans strongholds. “

DeSantis has denied that it chooses locations for the senior clinics based on the policy.

“There are some people who are more upset about vaccinating seniors than about other governors whose policies have killed seniors, and that’s a joke,” DeSantis said after the Bradenton Herald’s first Lakewood Ranch stories surfaced .

Meanwhile, U.S. Representative Charlie Crist, a St. Petersburg Democrat who, like Fried, is seen as a potential rival to DeSantis in the governor’s race in 2022, has called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate how the state is distributing its vaccines.

For two months now, reporters have been calling on the DeSantis administration to reveal the location and criteria for distributing vaccines. The Florida Department of Health has since forwarded some documents to the Times / Herald Tallahassee office, but the records are incomplete and show that a quarter of all vaccines went to Publix supermarkets while the state did not track where the grocery was located The retail chain allocated their cans.

The state has not yet published the written criteria used to determine which communities will receive the special pop-up vaccination clinics.

This story has been updated to include comments from the governor’s spokesman.

The Tampa Bay Times reporters Steve Contorno and Allison Ross contributed to this report

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