Supermarket chain chosen as Florida vaccine provider after giving $100,000 to DeSantis

The Publix grocery chain was selected to receive distribute nearly a quarter of Florida‘s coronavirus vaccines a week after it donated $100,000 to a PAC supporting Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, according to a “60 Minutes” report.

The contract allowed Publix to bill Medicare $40 per shot. The Publix deal was one of several the program highlighted that alleged political funds and favours were traded for access to the vaccine.

Another example of alleged “pay to play” with the coronavirus vaccine occurred in the city of Palm Beach, Florida.

Read more

The city – which is home to primarily wealthy individuals and leans heavily Republican – was granted 1,000 doses of the vaccine early from a limited supply. Poorer communities, in particular those comprised of people of colour who have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus when compared to white people, had to wait much longer before vaccines were available.

Local news stories reported that wealthy GOP donors were given first access to the vaccines, and that Publix was allowed to decide where it would focus its distribution efforts.

The state’s Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried reported that nearly ever member over 65 of a wealthy Key Largo group – the Ocean Reef Club – received vaccinations by mid-January. The group’s members are primarily GOP donors.

“If this isn’t public corruption, I don’t know what is,” Ms Fried said at a press conference.

Florida Democratic Congressman Charlie Crist called the reports “appalling.”

Mr DeSantis has strongly condemned the report and denied any kind of special access was given to GOP donors.

Sharyn Alfonsi, a 60 Minutes correspondent, confronted Mr DeSantis about the allegations during a press conference captured on CNN.

“Publix, as you know, donated $100,000 to your campaign,” Ms Alfonsi said to Mr DeSantis on the program. “And then you rewarded them with the exclusive rights to distribute the vaccination in Palm Beach…”

“First, of all what you’re saying is wrong,” he said, interrupting.

“How is that not pay for play?” Ms Alfonsi asked.

“That’s a fake narrative,” Mr DeSantis said. “I met with the county mayor, I met with the administrator, I met with all the folks at 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.”

60 Minutes received some criticism for editing part of the exchange between Ms Alfonsi and Mr DeSantis. Viewers who had been at the press conference pointed out that the segment left out a chunk of discussion in which Mr DeSantis explained how the Publix deal came to be.

“First of all, the first pharmacies that had [the vaccine] were CVS and Walgreens and they had a long-term care mission, so they were going to the long-term care facilities. They got the vaccine in the middle of December, they started going to the long-term care facilities the third week in December to do LTCs,’ Mr DeSantis told Ms Alfonsi.

“So that was their mission, that was very important and we trusted them to do that. As we got into January, we wanted to expand the distribution points. So yes, you had the counties, you had some drive-thru sites, you had hospitals that were doing a lot, but we wanted to get it into communities more,” he said. “So we reached out to other retail pharmacies: Publix, Walmart, obviously CVS and Walgreens had to finish that mission and we said we’re going to use you as soon as you’re done with that,’ Mr DeSantis said.

The governor claimed Publix was the “first one to raise their hand” to say they were ready to distribute the vaccine.

Publix also rejected the claims.

“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 company said. ‘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.”

More Stories
South African Covid variant makes current crop of vaccines 30% less effective, SAGE warns