Seniors outside Lakewood Ranch frustrated with exclusivity at state-run site

Manatee County

MANATEE COUNTY (WFLA) – Up until this week, everyone receiving a COVID-19 vaccine in Manatee County was selected from a vaccine waiting pool at random.

The state opened up a pop-up vaccination site in Lakewood Ranch Wednesday morning. Three-thousand appointments from the clinic were pulled from the county’s waiting pool, but only two zip codes were selected from the pool — 34202 and 34211. Both zip codes cover communities east of Interstate 75 and virtually all of Lakewood Ranch.

“I kind of felt betrayed. Betrayed or lied to,” Bradenton senior Louis Szuch said.

Szuch is a 71-year-old cancer survivor. He has been trying to get his COVID-19 vaccine for weeks.

“I have been on every website there is — Publix, Walgreens, Manatee County… I have been checking every day and still nothing,” said the 71-year-old.

Like countless other seniors across Manatee County, Szuch has been waiting for his name to get selected from the county’s random waiting pool. That’s why he was so frustrated to learn appointments for this week’s state run pop up clinic weren’t selected at random.

“You let me down, Governor DeSantis. I have supported you since day one. I have applauded your efforts with every program you have done, but you let us down,” said Szuch.

Manatee County resident Glen Gibellina, 69, wrote a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis expressing his discontent.

“I think it is an unjust service to the rest of the community. We have protocols set in place and part of that protocol is the lottery system,” said Gibellina. “Folks like me who have entered to the lottery system just had 3,000 people jump ahead of me. It is absolutely unfair. There is no rhyme or reason to it. There is no logical reason to it and I will tell you the 200,000+ 65 and older are not happy with that decision.”

During a commission meeting Tuesday, Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, who represents Lakewood Ranch, said she was responsible for selecting the two zip codes for the state-run clinic. She said she worked with the state and Lakewood Ranch developer Rex Jensen to coordinate the clinic.

Fellow commissioner, Carol Whitmore tells 8 On Your Side, she was shocked learning about the pop-up clinic in Lakewood Ranch. She says Baugh didn’t notify anyone on the board about the state-run clinic or the extra doses.

“I think this was a terrible decision by our chairman who happens to represent that district and I have gotten hundreds of emails and I am responding to everyone of them,” said Commissioner Whitmore. “I think there are thoughts that the whole entire county knew about this and we didn’t. We didn’t, we were just as surprised as everybody else.”

Whitmore says the lack of transparency is unacceptable.

“I made it clear at the meeting yesterday that this won’t happen again for our citizens,” said Whitmore.

The Lakewood Ranch pop up clinic runs through Friday.

Manatee County officials say this was the first time select zip codes have been pulled from the county’s waiting pool.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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