On Thursday, a commissioner from Manatee County, Florida admitted to breaking the protocol for equitable covid-19 vaccine distribution by planning a vaccine drive where she only allowed residents from the two richest zip codes in the county to register and created a “VIP list” to allow her and others to skip the line. The commissioner who planned the “pop-up” vaccination site, Vanessa Baugh, did so under the direction of Republican Florida Governor and noted racist Ron DeSantis—although earlier this week, fellow county commissioners said that they weren’t notified about the drive, despite the fact that it utilized personnel and resources from the county. In fact, they apparently only found out about it through the newspaper.
In an email obtained by CNN, Baugh asked Manatee county workers to pull a list of potential vaccine recipients from two specific zip codes, 34202 and 34211, for the state-sponsored vaccine pop-up. Census records show that those two zip codes have the highest median household income and some of the lowest covid-19 infection rates in the county. They’re also overwhelmingly white—unsurprising, considering the massive racial disparity already evident in the distribution of covid-19 vaccines, despite the fact that the coronavirus pandemic has taken a disproportionate toll on Black communities.
Although Baugh didn’t offer an explanation for the choice of zip codes, Gov. DeSantis claimed that it “was a choice about where’s a high concentration of seniors,” though he provided no actual data to back up that statement. Shocking, that a man who once said that the “only serious race war” was against white people would want to set up a vaccine drive exclusively for the rich and white.
In addition, a separate email shows that on Monday, Baugh directed that she, a local real estate developer that was involved in the drive, and three others be allowed to cut the line in receiving their vaccines. Two of the individuals on Baugh’s VIP list actually lived outside of the two zip codes that she had already selected.
All of this comes nearly a month and a half after Manatee County commissioners–including Baugh—voted unanimously to distribute vaccines using a system that was created to be more equitable. This new system allowed covid-19 vaccine appointments to be distributed by random lottery where all eligible people were permitted to opt-in, instead of forcing residents to scramble to sign up for vaccine appointments when they were made available. During a public county commissioners meeting on Tuesday, County Administrator Cheri Coryea that she had told Baugh to use the random pool and not choose potential vaccine recipients based on zip codes in setting up the Governor’s vaccine drive.
When responding to criticism over how she handled the site, Baugh said that she’d do the exact same thing again, explaining that she “did exactly what (DeSantis) wanted.” Governor DeSantis is now threatening to withhold additional covid-19 vaccine doses from Manatee County because of the scrutiny being faced by Bough. In his own words, “if Manatee County doesn’t like us doing this, then we are totally fine with putting this in counties that want it.” So not only did the Florida governor approve a vaccine drive that privileged the already hyper-privileged, he’s now punishing the entire county for attempting to maintain their more equitable system of vaccine distribution by withholding additional covid-19 doses. How comforting.