TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — As millions of Floridians wait to get vaccinated, residents in two of Manatee County’s wealthiest areas will be getting special vaccine access.
The office of Gov. Ron DeSantis worked with Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh to set up a pop-up vaccination site for residents in the 34202 and 34211 zip codes.
“This unique opportunity was made possible by Governor DeSantis calling (Schroeder-Manatee Ranch President) Rex Jensen wanting to do a vaccination site near Lakewood Ranch,” Baugh said. “The Governor has been trying to find large areas of neighborhoods to target.”
Lakewood Ranch is located in southeastern Manatee County and northeastern Sarasota County and is consistently ranked among the richest neighborhoods in Florida. Census data show the two zip codes have median household incomes 75-85% higher than the county average. State data shows the two zip codes don’t have more seniors or more virus cases than several of their neighboring zip codes.
DeSantis has been widely criticized for giving special vaccine access to residents in Florida’s wealthiest zip codes. More data has showed residents in affluent areas are getting vaccinated at a faster rate than those in low-income neighborhoods.
“I am outraged that Governor DeSantis has given a special allocation of virus vaccines to residents of Lakewood Ranch,” a viewer said in an email to News Channel 8. “What special category do they belong in other than being possible DeSantis supporters? Why should they be put ahead of people of color and other marginalized residents of Sarasota County?”
“So we punish those people who give out leftover vaccine [sic], so it doesn’t get wasted, but all the rich people have to do flash their money in DeSantis face, and they go right to the front of the line?” another viewer said.
At a press conference Wednesday, the governor faced questions about the disparities in the state’s vaccine rollout.
“There was no choice to pick certain zip codes,” DeSantis said. “We wanted to find communities that have high levels of seniors living in there, and this obviously has a high concentration. You look at all these different communities, and there is a lot of senior citizens. If there were few senior citizens, then you wouldn’t have set up a pod here.”
However, data shows neighboring zip codes have more seniors and more virus cases. Zip code 34205 in Bradenton has more seniors and more COVID-19 cases per capita than both. The median income in 34205 is 25% below the county average.
“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.”
The governor said the vaccines are supplementary to the additional 6,000 doses that are being administered each week in Manatee County, so residents have those options as well.
The new site is located at the Premier Sports Campus, located at 5895 Post Boulevard in Lakewood Ranch.
Appointments for the clinic cannot be made online. The county said 3,000 residents were selected from its standby pool to receive a vaccine. Shots will go into arms on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Patients will schedule an appointment for their second dose when they get their first shot.