Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is fighting back against a report on the coronavirus vaccine rollout in his state as being a "fake narrative" with its allegations that he aimed the distribution and administration of the vaccination toward the wealthy and to his own campaign contributors.
CBS' Sharyn Alfonsi, in an extensive report for "60 Minutes," reported allegations airing Sunday night that the governor had privatized the state vaccine rollout to benefit large donors who donated to his campaign and that he'd funneled the vaccines to wealthy communities at a time when minorities have been struggling to have access to the vaccine.
Florida's Democrat leaders are seeking a Justice Department investigation to determine if DeSantis had been rewarding high-dollar donors through allowing special access to the vaccine.
There have also been other questions raised about whether DeSantis discriminated when picking communities for pop-up vaccination sites, including at Lakewood Ranch in Manatee County just south of Tampa.
In Feburary, the "60 Minutes" report said, the governor announced he was giving 3,000 doses to the community, because "we saw a need, we want to get the numbers up for seniors."
The Lakewood Ranch developer, Pat Neal, however, had donated $135,000 to the Friends of Ron DeSantis PAC, the segment noted.
Alfonsi also reported that the Republican governor had given a contract to the grocery chain Publix to distribute the vaccines exclusively in the Palm Beach area after the company donated $100,000 to his campaign.
DeSantis declined CBS's request for an interview, according to Alfonsi, so she caught up with him at an event near Orlando.
"Publix as you know donated $100,000 to your campaign and then you rewarded them with the exclusive rights to distribute the vaccine in Palm Beach," she said.
"So first of all what you're saying is wrong," DeSantis told her. "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.'"
Alfonsi also told DeSantis that his critics are saying that his awarding the contract amounted to a "pay for play" scheme, and he argued with her again.
"I just disabused you of the narrative and you don't care about the facts because obviously I just laid it out for you in a way that is irrefutable," he said. "So clearly it's not."
And when she tried to question him further, DeSantis shouted over her: "No, no, no. You're wrong. You're wrong. You're wrong."
Meanwhile, Publix responded that there was no connection between its campaign contributions to DeSantis and the partnership to administer the vaccine.
"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," the chain said in a statement. "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."
State Rep. Omari Hardy, a Democrat, told "60 Minutes" DeSantis' decision choice to privatize the rollout meant that low-income communities were left without a way to get the shots if they did not have a Publix grocery store. She noted that in one instance, a community's residents, including several elderly residents, had to travel nearly 30 miles to get a shot."
"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," Hardy said. "They're not accountable to the public."
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