LAKEWOOD RANCH, Fla. - What the governor says were good intentions has instead led to outrage over vaccines in Manatee County.
Governor Ron DeSantis said he selected Lakewood Ranch for a state-sponsored pop-up vaccine drive to increase the county's vaccination rate. He gave the site 3,000 doses, separate from Manatee County's 5,100.
"We wanted to find communities that had a high level of seniors living there and this obviously has a high concentration," he said.
But the way that those communities were selected has come under scrutiny.
Lakewood Ranch developer Rex Jensen contacted Manatee County Commission Chairperson Vanessa Baugh. He told her the governor called and offered the vaccines, but he had no way to set up the clinic.
Baugh helped, and had 3,000 names selected from two specific ZIP codes: 34211 and 34202, which are primarily Lakewood Ranch, the most affluent area in the county.
Public records request obtained by FOX 13 show the list had five names hand-selected -- including Baugh's.
Manatee County Commission Chairperson Vanessa Baugh with Governor Ron DeSantis
"You look at the most impacted ZIP codes and when it’s not going to those ZIP codes and it’s not available to everyone in the community, you really have to question what is the strategy," said Patrick Carnegie, the president of MCR Health.
Carnegie’s team has worked on outreach with vaccines to areas in Palmetto and Rubonia. They're the places hardest hit by COVID-19.
"It's unfortunate that now, instead of us all being focused toward moving to vaccinate as many as possible, we now have to deal with an issue of selection categories and certain ZIP codes," he continued.
When pressed about the controversy Wednesday, the governor suggested he’d divert the vaccines elsewhere.
"If they don’t want us doing it then just tell us and we will make sure we send those doses to folks who want it," DeSantis said.
The issue is rocketing around the state, with Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is considering running against DeSantis in 2022, saying it amounts to vaccination favoritism.
"That is how this governor has rolled," she said.
State Rep. Michele Rayner argues that other areas in Manatee have both more cases and populations that have had trouble with access to the vaccine.
The Lakewood Ranch ZIP Codes have had about 2,500 cases combined, while ZIP codes that include Palmetto and Samoset have had about 8,200.
Rayner represents those areas.
"We know that there is disparity of how COVID affects black and brown communities," she said. "We know there is a disparity of how COVID affects economically challenged communities."
Commissioner Reggie Bellamy understands many are anxious to receive the vaccine. He believes it's a decision that should have been made by the entire board.
"I just think, as leaders, we have a responsibility as public servants to be data-driven and to make sure we find ways that we go into the areas that are impacted," said Bellamy.
While he's relieved 3,000 additional people will be vaccinated, he hopes the board will work together for the community.
"I would hope for, in the future, that we would make a collective approach on something that means so much to so many people," he added.