PINELLAS PARK , Fla. (WFLA) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was back in Tampa Bay on Thursday for the opening of a new vaccine site in Pinellas Park.
The visit comes as the state faces criticism for giving vaccine access to wealthier areas, like Lakewood Ranch, where a vaccine site opened Wednesday, and as winter storms delay vaccine shipments to Florida.
DeSantis said 3,000 seniors will be vaccinated over three days at the new vaccine site at the Mainlands Community Club House in Pinellas Park, and will receive doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. DeSantis said the county is handling all appointments.
Although 42% of the state’s seniors have received their first dose of the vaccine—one of the highest percentages in the country— only 35% of seniors in Pinellas County have been vaccinated against the virus, DeSantis said.
He said the state plans to open another vaccine site in Pinellas County next week to administer an additional 5,000 doses.
Pinellas County has a number of community sites where residents 65 and over can get vaccinated, including a new site that opened Tuesday in Largo. Appointments can be made through the county’s patient portal. Seniors can also sign up to get vaccinated at a number of area Walmart, Sam’s Club and Publix stores, DeSantis said.
DeSantis said seniors should expect delays in shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine due to winter storms impacting a large part of the country, but that more vaccines were on their way.
“We were at 325,000 last week, we’re going to have a net increase of 41,000 for the next week, shipping,” DeSantis said.
The governor said those with appointments to get the Modern vaccine should “hang in there.”
“The doses are going to get here, but you have some extreme weather that is keeping those doses out of Florida,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis is facing criticism for the state’s decision to open a pop-up vaccine clinic in one of Tampa Bay’s wealthiest neighborhoods. State data has showed residents in more affluent areas are getting vaccinated at a faster rate than those in low-income neighborhoods.
On Wednesday, a vaccine site opened in Lakewood Ranch for older adults living zip codes 34202 and 34211, two of Manatee County’s richest areas.
Seniors who have been waiting to be selected through the county’s vaccine stand-by pool tell 8 On Your Side the new site has them feeling frustrated.
“Three thousand people jumped in front of me who are privileged,” said Manatee County resident Glen Gibellina.
When asked about the disparities on Wednesday, DeSantis said the state “wanted to find communities that had high levels of seniors living in there, and this [Lakewood Ranch] obviously has a high concentration.”
But the two zip codes being served by the new vaccination site appear to have fewer coronavirus cases compared to other areas, according to a map tracking the virus outbreak in Manatee County.
DeSantis said the vaccines are supplementary to the additional 6,000 doses that are being administered each week in Manatee County, so seniors have those options as well. They can also get vaccinated at Publix.
“If Manatee County doesn’t like us doing this, then we are totally fine with putting this in counties that want it,” DeSantis said. “And we’re totally happy to do that. So anyone that is saying that [there is a problem], let us know. If you want us to send it to Sarasota next time, or Charlotte, or Pasco, or wherever, let us know. We’re happy to do it.”
“I’m really said and embarrassed about how this happened,” said Manatee County Commissioner Misty Servia, who called the situation unfair.
Servia said she reached out to the governor on Wednesday.
“I have citizens contacting me everyday, begging for an appointment for a vaccine,” she said.