Publix was handed a vaccine distribution deal weeks after donating $100,000 to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' PAC
- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis faces questions over a vaccine deal with the Publix grocery chain.
- CBS "60 Minutes" reported that weeks before the announcement, Publix donated $100,000 to DeSantis' PAC.
- DeSantis told "60 Minutes" that any suggestion of a pay-for-play partnership was "a fake narrative."
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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis faces questions over his vaccine distribution partnership with the Publix grocery store chain, which donated a total of $100,000 to his political action committee in the weeks leading up to the deal's announcement, 60 Minutes revealed Sunday.
DeSantis refused an interview with 60 Minutes, but was confronted by a reporter about the timing of the Publix donations at a press conference last month, where the governor denied any wrongdoing.
"What you're saying is wrong ... That's a fake narrative," DeSantis said. "I met with the county mayor. I met with the administrator. I met with all the folks in Palm Beach County and I said, 'Here's some of the options. We can do more drive-thru sites. We can give more to hospitals. We can do the Publix.' And they said, 'We think that would be the easiest thing for our residents.'"
DeSantis announced in January that Publix would distribute COVID-19 vaccines through their pharmacies. The chain receives almost 1 in 4 of all Florida's shots, according to local media.
A county commissioner, Melissa McKinlay, told 60 Minutes that the governor never met with her about the Publix partnership.
Publix responded to the criticism with a statement to 60 Minutes, calling the accusation that they paid for the chance to distribute the vaccines "absolutely false and offensive."
"The irresponsible suggestion that there was a connection between campaign contributions made to Governor DeSantis and our willingness to join other pharmacies in support of the state's vaccine distribution efforts is absolutely false and offensive. We are proud of our pharmacy associates for administering more than 1.5 million doses of vaccine to date and for joining other retailers in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia to do our part to help our communities emerge from the pandemic," the statement read.
Insider reached out to both DeSantis and Publix for additional comment, but did not immediately receive a response Monday morning.
The details about the Publix donations and vaccine deal were part of a larger story into allegations of preferential treatment to wealthy Florida communities during the pandemic.
One of the flaws with the Publix partnership is that it made it difficult for residents in some poorer communities in Palm Beach County to get the vaccine.
In the community of Belle Glade, for example, the nearest Publix is 25 miles away, and for residents that don't have a car, it takes two buses and a round trip of more than two hours.
Florida state Rep. Omari Hardy, a Democratic, told 60 Minutes that the vaccine rollout in the state "hasn't worked for people of color."
"Before, I could call the public health director. She would answer my calls. But now if I want to get my constituents information about how to get this vaccine I have to call a lobbyist from Publix? That makes no sense. They're not accountable to the public," Hardy said.
According to 60 Minutes, a federal complaint claims DeSantis discriminated when he picked where to hold pop-up vaccinations sites across the state.
60 Minutes detailed how DeSantis gave the community of Lakewood Ranch in Manatee County, one of the wealthiest enclaves in the state, 3,000 vaccines in February, after local developer Pat Neal donated $135,000 to the governor's PAC.
DeSantis said he "saw a need" in the community to get vaccine rates up, despite the area having some of the lowest infection rates in the state.
And when he was questioned about the decision, DeSantis threatened to take the vaccines away.
"I mean if Manatee County doesn't like us doing this, then we are totally fine with putting this in counties that want it," DeSantis said, according to 60 Minutes.