State launches investigation into diverted COVID vaccine allegations

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday that the state is investigating allegations that an upscale West Palm Beach nursing home diverted scarce COVID-19 vaccinations meant for residents and staff to members of the facility’s board of directors and donors.

Appearing at a press conference in Vero Beach, DeSantis said that the Florida Department of Health concluded its investigation into reports that MorseLife Health System chief executive Keith Myers offered vaccinations to some of the long-term care facility’s board members and wealthy donors.

DeSantis said he also directed Florida Inspector General Melinda Miguel to investigate the allegations in stories published this week.

Florida non-profit accused of steering vaccines to rich donors

Florida launched an investigation Wednesday into an upscale nursing home amid reports that it administered coronavirus vaccines to wealthy donors and members of a country club.

On Monday, the New York Post reported that real estate moguls Bill and David S. Mack arranged for their "wealthy friends from Manhattan and the ritzy Palm Beach Country Club to get the COVID-19 vaccine at a Florida retirement home."

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that MorseLife made the vaccinations "available not just to its residents but to board members and those who made generous donations to the facility, including members of the Palm Beach Country Club, according to multiple people who were offered access, some of whom accepted it."

DeSantis said Thursday the state started the investigation "as soon as we found out about it."

"We think we’ll have something pretty soon on that," he added.

The governor’s remarks came on the heels of U.S. Sen. Rick Scott’s call for an investigation into the allegation.

"It is absolutely disgusting and immoral that anyone would take vaccines intended for nursing home residents to distribute them to their friends," Scott, a Republican and former Florida governor, said in a statement released Thursday. "This type of gross mismanagement will not be tolerated, and those responsible must be held accountable."

The federal government inked agreements last year with CVS and Walgreens to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to staff and residents of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

Hospital frontline health-care workers and residents of the long-term care facilities were the initial groups of people who qualified for Pfizer Inc. and Moderna vaccinations.

DeSantis on Dec. 23 announced that he was broadening eligibility to include all health care workers as well as people who are 65 or older.

The move led to chaos, resulting in jammed phone lines, overwhelmed websites and, in some instances, lines of seniors camping out over night to be first in line for vaccines.

DeSantis maintains opposition to local COVID-19 rules

Gov. Ron DeSantis strongly reaffirmed his opposition to local government officials’ attempts to impose their own rules to curb the spread of COVID-19, saying Wednesday that such measures "are not effective."

DeSantis emphasized Thursday that the vaccinations at the center of the controversy were not supplied by hospitals or county health departments, but were part of the federal arrangement with retail pharmacies.

"The nursing home and long-term care program is for residents and staff of long-term care facilities. That’s who it's for. Look, if you’re not a resident or a member of a long-term care facility but you’re 65 and up, there’s other options for you. We want you to get vaccinated. But to go under that rubric when you are not a resident and you’re not a staff member, that is definitely going outside of what the guidance is and what the program is for," the governor said.