MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — A Manatee County commissioner’s remarks on Thursday left further questions about how a popup COVID-19 vaccine clinic became exclusive to residents of two wealthy zip codes.
District 5 commissioner Vanessa Baugh made the comments after she apologized to county residents for adding herself and four others to a “VIP” list to get the vaccine at the already-exclusive clinic.
“I also, again, want to apologize to Gov. DeSantis,” said Baugh. “And I don’t do that because I feel that I’m putting him in jeopardy because of Lakewood Ranch. I did exactly what he wanted. And I’m thankful for that.”
Around the same time, an hour north at another popup clinic opening in Pinellas County, Gov. DeSantis claimed he was not responsible.
“You should ask them what they did,” DeSantis replied to a reporter. “I’m not sure. What we do, with these senior community sites, what we do is we identify places that have it. We then work with the local community and the senior facility—like Sun City Center a couple weeks ago—and then they really handle trying to work that through.”
“That’s not, we didn’t do that,” he replied to a follow-up question about why it was limited to two zip codes. “You’ll have to ask them why they do it. What we do is, we trust them to be able to sign people up.”
A public records request by 8 On Your Side also revealed that 19 other zip codes had more seniors (65 and older) registered in the county’s vaccine waiting pool, from which people are selected randomly to receive the vaccine, than the two zip codes that were singled out—34202 and 34211.
On Wednesday, at the clinic opening, DeSantis responded to criticism from some Manatee County residents who live outside the two selected zip codes and were angry that they weren’t eligible.
“If Manatee County doesn’t like us doing this, then we are totally fine with putting this in counties that want it and we’re totally happy to do that,” said DeSantis. “So anyone that’s saying that, 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.”
Data show the two zip codes don’t have more seniors or more virus cases than several of their neighboring zip codes, either.
For example, downtown Bradenton zip code 34205, which sits along the Manatee River across from Palmetto, has more seniors and more COVID-19 cases per capita than both the high-income zip codes.
Census data show the two zip codes, which include the Lakewood Ranch planned community, have median household incomes 75-85% higher than the county average.
In 34205, median household income is 25% lower than the county average.
Both exclusive zip codes are within Baugh’s district five.
Political contributions in 34202 are also five times the national average, according to watchdog website OpenSecrets.org.
Residents of that zip code gave $22,042 to DeSantis’ 2018 gubernatorial campaign, according to Florida Division of Elections data.