Florida 'unfair vaccination distribution' pits poor against the rich


Florida’s COVID vaccine distribution system has pitted the middle class against the rich and  trailer parks against gated communities amid claims the state’s elite are receiving special treatment.

Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is facing mounting criticism over his handling of the inoculation effort, which some claim has been prioritizing affluent neighborhoods and his own political allies. 

Reports of early and secretive vaccination drives in high-income areas have recently emerged across the state, sparking investigations at all levels of government.

Currently in Florida, anyone over 60, plus residents and staff of long-term care facilities and health care workers are automatically eligible for the vaccine. 

Younger patients with underlying conditions such as diabetes and chronic lung disease have been able to get the shot at hospitals.  

But more than three months since the inoculation effort began, some eligible residents say they are still having a difficult time securing a vaccine appointment, an issue that does not seem to exist in wealthy neighborhoods nearby.   

In an exclusive interview with DailyMail.com, Democrat Charlie Crist, the former Florida governor and now congressman, called it ‘an organized effort to vaccinate supporters of the governor.’

‘It looks like there’s a concerted effort [by DeSantis] to endear himself to his base and be able to garner significant contributions,’ Crist said.

Key Largo retiree Ginger Richardson says the alleged special treatment has left folks like her resentful

Ginger Richardson, a Silver Shores Mobile Home Community resident spoke to DailyMail.com about how it felt to live just down the street from Ocean Reef Club where residents were allegedly given an early and exclusive opportunity to receive the vaccine

Ginger Richardson, a Silver Shores Mobile Home Community resident spoke to DailyMail.com about how it felt to live just down the street from Ocean Reef Club where residents were allegedly given an early and exclusive opportunity to receive the vaccine

Richardson is among many residents of Silver Shores in Key Largo - a densely populated senior community - who has been unable to secure an appointment to receive her first dose

Richardson is among many residents of Silver Shores in Key Largo – a densely populated senior community – who has been unable to secure an appointment to receive her first dose

Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is faced mounting criticism over his handling of the inoculation effort, which some claim has been prioritizing affluent neighborhoods and his own political allies. Pictured: General views of Silver Shores Mobile Home Community

Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is faced mounting criticism over his handling of the inoculation effort, which some claim has been prioritizing affluent neighborhoods and his own political allies. Pictured: General views of Silver Shores Mobile Home Community 

The 63-year-old, who lives in an ocean-front mobile home on the island that Humphrey Bogart made famous in his 1948 film, was one of many eligible residents unable to register for a shot in January when the roll out began. 

Meanwhile, Ocean Reef, a gated community of multimillion-dollar homes up the road, appeared to have plenty to go around.

‘Everybody here is pissed,’ Richardson told DailyMail.com. ‘The rich people up the street got vaccines when no one here could. 

‘We were working on three computers at the same time just to get an appointment, and we still couldn’t get a shot.’

Richardson is now due to travel next week to her native Hammond, Indiana, where she has made an appointment to receive the shot.  

‘We’re not political donors, so I’m flying north for my vaccine,’ she said speaking from Silver Shores Trailer Park alongside her husband Jeff, 61. ‘How stupid is that?’

The target of her ire, Ocean Reef, is just a few miles north.

For decades and until recently, the enclave had been TV host Kathie Lee Gifford’s winter home.

Meanwhile, Ocean Reef Club, a gated community of multimillion-dollar homes up the road, appeared to have plenty of vaccines to go around for its residents

Meanwhile, Ocean Reef Club, a gated community of multimillion-dollar homes up the road, appeared to have plenty of vaccines to go around for its residents

As many as 1,200 Ocean Reef residents, nearly all the community's people under 65 and half the total population, received their first jabs in January

As many as 1,200 Ocean Reef residents, nearly all the community’s people under 65 and half the total population, received their first jabs in January

Currently in Florida, anyone over 60, plus residents and staff of long-term care facilities and health care workers are automatically eligible for the vaccine. Pictured: A patient receives his injection in Hialeah, Florida on March 12

Currently in Florida, anyone over 60, plus residents and staff of long-term care facilities and health care workers are automatically eligible for the vaccine. Pictured: A patient receives his injection in Hialeah, Florida on March 12 

And while the former Today host sold her 11,000 sq ft house for $8.2million in October, she left behind a slew of captains of industry who fly private jets into the neighborhood on a private, 4,000-foot airstrip and enjoy two exclusive world-class restaurants, superyacht docks just steps from the house, closed golf courses and other amenities no one else can access.

There’s a hotel where non-residents can stay for $400-a-night, for as long as a resident ‘vouches’ for the outsiders, a staffer said on the phone.

There’s also a small clinic, the Medical Center, where subscribers pay $10,000 a year for concierge service where a doctor is available 24/7.

Along with other services such as a fat-busting treatment called CoolSculpting, the clinic conducted the early vaccinations, according to its website.

As many as 1,200 Ocean Reef residents, nearly all the community’s people under 65 and half the total population, received their first jabs in January, according to messages on the neighborhood’s website.

Whereas some state-organized distribution centers had six-hour waits, there was no such time suck at Ocean Reef or long, cumbersome appointment process for seniors.

Silver Shores resident identified only as John, said it's clear to him Ocean Reef jumped ahead because it is stuffed with large political donors

Silver Shores resident identified only as John, said it’s clear to him Ocean Reef jumped ahead because it is stuffed with large political donors

Richardson said it's 'an insult to everybody that state vaccines ended up at Ocean Reef but not here'

Richardson said it’s ‘an insult to everybody that state vaccines ended up at Ocean Reef but not here’

Clinic officials aren’t returning calls asking how they secured the vaccine so early in the process, and how much, if anything, residents had to pay.

But Richardson and others, however, had plenty to say.

‘You can’t even go near Ocean Reef before someone asks you what you’re doing there,’ said Richardson near the Silver Shores closed shuffleboard area. 

Even Silver Shores’ clubhouse has been shut down for more than a year with no firm date of reopening.

‘It was an insult to everybody that state vaccines ended up at Ocean Reef but not here.

‘My neighbors had to drive 60 miles away to the mainland to get vaccinated. All the Ocean Reef people had to do was walk down to the clinic. They didn’t even wait in line,’ Richardson claims.

‘We, too, would like to go to a restaurant or give someone a hug.’

Pictured above is a drive-thru vaccine center at Manatee County Public Safety Department in Bradenton. Residents in the line said they wait up to two-months to receive an appointment, while residents just next door in wealthy Lakewood Ranch had their own private vaccine drive last month

Pictured above is a drive-thru vaccine center at Manatee County Public Safety Department in Bradenton. Residents in the line said they wait up to two-months to receive an appointment, while residents just next door in wealthy Lakewood Ranch had their own private vaccine drive last month

Whereas some state-organized distribution centers had six-hour waits, there was no such time suck at Ocean Reef,  where mostly Republican donors are living within the gates

Whereas some state-organized distribution centers had six-hour waits, there was no such time suck at Ocean Reef,  where mostly Republican donors are living within the gates

In another golf cart nearby, John, one of Richardson’s mobile home park neighbors, said it’s clear to him Ocean Reef jumped ahead because it is stuffed with large political donors.

‘Makes sense,’ said the 74-year-old Vietnam veteran who declined to give his last name. ‘Donate lots of money to politicians and you get special treatment. Go, USA.’

John says he received his first anti-COVID shot from the Veterans Administration more than a month after Ocean Reef, despite being considered at-risk. 

A search of property tax rolls for Ocean Reef, meanwhile, show mostly Republican donors living within the gates. 

One Ocean Reef resident splashed out tens of thousands in contributions to both of Florida’s US senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott. 

One of his properties at Ocean Reef is currently for sale for $15.9million.

Pro-Trump Governor DeSantis, appears to have too, benefited from the largess of Ocean Reef residents.

According to the Miami Herald, the seven people with Key Largo addresses who donated to DeSantis’ winning campaign in 2018 were all from Ocean Reef.

And that includes 65-year-old Bruce Rauner, the former one-term Illinois governor. 

According to Florida campaign records, Rauner, the founder of the $11billion private equity firm GTCR, who owns a $10million winter vacation home, wrote a $250,000 check to Friends of Ron DeSantis, a political action committee.

The check got to the PAC on February 25, shortly after the majority of Ocean Reef’s eligible residents received their second vaccine dose. 

And it so happens Rauner turned 65, and became eligible for the vaccine, on February 18. DailyMail.com cannot confirm that Rauner has been vaccinated.

Democratic Congressman Charlie Crist (pictured) and other Florida representatives have been pressuring the US Department of Justice to investigate the governor's control on vaccine supplies

Democratic Congressman Charlie Crist (pictured) and other Florida representatives have been pressuring the US Department of Justice to investigate the governor’s control on vaccine supplies

Meredith Beatrice, DeSantis’ spokeswoman, denied the vaccinations in Ocean Reef had anything to do with politics or contributions.

As a matter of fact, she said, the state didn’t supply Ocean Reef with vaccines.

‘In early January, the lion’s share of vaccine, which was in very limited supply at the time, was being sent to hospitals across the state, including Baptist Health in South Florida,’ she wrote in an email. 

Baptist Health, however, appears to have close ties to Ocean Reef’s medical clinic, which explains the quick delivery.

A request for comment left for Rauner at the Ocean Reef received no response. A woman who answered the phone at Rauner’s Central Park West condo in Manhattan told DailyMail.com: ‘He doesn’t want you to call.’

An operative close to DeSantis who asked to remain anonymous because PACs are not supposed to coordinate with candidates, said Rauner’s big check was a total coincidence and wasn’t timed with the vaccine.

No where, however, have rumors of a vaccines-for-favors scheme caused as much of a ruckus as in Bradenton, on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

A Manatee County commissioner and a developer are on the hot seat for organizing an exclusive three-day vaccination event on February 17 for residents from Lakewood Ranch, an upscale planned community. 

Lakewood Ranch developer Rex Jensen was originally asked by DeSantis’ office to organize the vaccinations of 3,000 people over 65. Jensen then pulled in Manatee County Commission Vanessa Baugh, who owns a jewelry store at Lakewood Ranch, for help placing people on the short list.

In time, the vaccines were delivered to the community by DeSantis himself, but the firestorm caused by the appearance as DeSantis gears up for reelection, according to Baugh’s emails obtained by The Bradenton Herald:, has yet to be doused.

Inside Lakewood Ranch, a planned community in Manatee County, Florida, where a special COVID-19 vaccine event was hosted by Gov. Ron DeSantis

Inside Lakewood Ranch, a planned community in Manatee County, Florida, where a special COVID-19 vaccine event was hosted by Gov. Ron DeSantis

Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, who happened to own a jewelry store at Lakewood Ranch, has been accused of placing people on the short list for the vaccine and is  now facing calls to resign

Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, who happened to own a jewelry store at Lakewood Ranch, has been accused of placing people on the short list for the vaccine and is  now facing calls to resign

The suspected quid-pro-quo was so obvious to Democratic Congressman Charlie Crist that he and other Florida representatives have been pressuring the US Department of Justice to investigate the governor’s control on vaccine supplies.

In his exclusive interview with DailyMail.com, Crist, a Democrat, called it ‘an organized effort to vaccinate supporters of the governor.’

‘It looks like there’s a concerted effort [by DeSantis] to endear himself to his base and be able to garner significant contributions,’ Crist said. ‘It’s more than discouraging. It’s disastrous, frankly.

‘I mean, how do you use your public office to give out vaccines that are designed to save life and think that’s okay?’

A former Florida governor himself, Crist is known to be considering another run for state executive.

When asked if getting vaccines into arms, any arms, isn’t more important than politicizing the pandemic, Crist said minorities in Florida weren’t being vaccinated at the same rate as white populations.

At the Lakewood Ranch's Barbary Shoppe, owner Lynne Rainwater described the controversy as the talk of the mostly Republican town where nearly 60 percent of the voters chose Trump and, therefore, are likely DeSantis voters

At the Lakewood Ranch’s Barbary Shoppe, owner Lynne Rainwater described the controversy as the talk of the mostly Republican town where nearly 60 percent of the voters chose Trump and, therefore, are likely DeSantis voters

‘This morning, I was doing a round table with the Hispanic community in Clearwater … and I asked a question: How many of you have received a vaccine? And they’re probably, I don’t know, 10 or 12 folks there and only one raised her hand. 

‘None of the others had had the opportunity to get a vaccine. So, what’s wrong with it? … It’s pure and simple discrimination.’

With its private vaccination events, Crist said, the DeSantis administration is ‘picking winners and losers in this vaccine hunt.’

‘If you’re Hispanic, if you’re not wealthy, if you’re a Democrat or you’re black, the odds are you’re going to have a much more difficult time getting that vaccine and your opportunity for life is diminished. And in fact, your greater opportunity is for death.’

According to the Miami Herald, the seven people with Key Largo addresses who donated to DeSantis' winning campaign in 2018 were all from Ocean Reef

According to the Miami Herald, the seven people with Key Largo addresses who donated to DeSantis’ winning campaign in 2018 were all from Ocean Reef

DeSantis spokeswoman Beatrice called Crist’s involvement ‘a manufactured narrative with political motivations.’

‘Because of Governor Ron DeSantis’ commitment to ensuring vaccine access to all seniors – regardless of background, income or zip code – millions of seniors in Florida have received the vaccine, and 65 percent of our state’s senior population have been vaccinated so far, the highest in the nation,’ Beatrice wrote in a statement.

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