As the Covid-19 pandemic infects more Americans across Florida, there has been speculation of donors being prioritized during the vaccine roll out. Florida’s Governor DeSantis has been scrutinized for setting up pop up vaccine centers in wealthy neighborhoods. Earlier in the year, the Miami Herald reported areas like Key Largo had received hundreds of life saving vaccines for the elderly by mid-january. It came out that more than 1,200 residents of the exclusive Ocean Reef Club in Florida may have received the sought after vaccine before most of the state.
ABC news reports that the governor denied claims of involvement with the distribution of the vaccines to the affluent residents. Instead, he put the blame on one of the South Florida Hospital systems for the controversial roll out. The governor continues to raise eyebrows as it was revealed he received large sums from some Ocean Reef residents. Former Illinois Governor, Bruce Rauner donated $250,000 to DeSantis’ campaign committee. Some other contributors to Governor DeSantis’ campaign committee came from Ocean Reef.
According to the Miami Herald , 17 residents of the resort donated $5,000 in December 2020. The Governor has been under fire for prioritizing affluent communities instead of minority, or poorer communities in an effort to politicize the vaccine.
An email obtained by POLITICO shows donors of the Baptist Health of South Florida Hospital were informed on how to get their hands on the vaccine. The email sent by CEO of the Hospital Foundation Alexandra Villoch, told donors who could afford a six-figure contribution that they were eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine. It read,”As Baptist Health continues the immunization program for its frontline workers, we will also expand immunization efforts to include members of the wider community linked to Baptist Health, such as members of our Giving Society who meet the criteria designated.” The communication was sent out to over 3,000 donors.
The Giving Society is a recognition program for donors who have contributed more than $100,000 dollars to the hospital. Villoch had later added in the email that hospital staff would contact the Giving Society members to expedite the planning of a Covid -19 vaccine.
A spokesperson from the Baptist Health South Florida hospital, Dori Alvarez came out to contradict claims by Governor DeSantis. In a statement she said, “It is our understanding that the Medical Center at Ocean Reef asked the State of Florida for vaccine doses, and the State of Florida asked Baptist Health to take delivery of the doses to our ultra-cold freezer storage for delivery to the Medical Center at Ocean Reef.” It was revealed that the hospital has ties to the Ocean Reef Resort. At least eight of the hospital’s board members have property or businesses in the affluent area.
Florida, however, is not the first state to get exposed over favouring the more affluent in the society. According to an article in theSeattle Times,Overlake Medical Center and Clinics provided their donors with early access to the Covid-19 vaccine. Their chief development officer, Molly Stearns emailed over 100 donors to alert them about open vaccine slots. The donors had contributed more than $10,000 to the Eastside Hospital system.