With Governor Ron DeSantis facing scrutiny for Florida’s COVID-19 distribution, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried held a press conference on Thursday, continuing to lambast the Governor for “showing favoritism” with the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
The lone statewide Democrat held a presser at the State Capitol, pushing rhetoric that suggests that DeSantis rationed the vaccine to residents in affluent areas of the state. Fried doubled down, claiming that many of the pop-up vaccine sites were connected to campaign contributions tied to DeSantis. Fried’s announcement comes on the heels of a report from the Miami Herald that asserted that residents age 65 and older at the Ocean Reef Club in the Florida Keys were vaccinated last month ahead of thousands of seniors.
“We’ve seen the stories throughout the entire state of Florida over the last couple of months — pop-up sites in wealthy locations tied to DeSantis donors.”
DeSantis has openly denied involvement. In a press conference held Thursday morning in Crystal River, DeSantis said last month’s report was untrue and that the state had nothing to do with those vaccinations, emphasizing that vaccines made available to the Key Largo community were administered by a local hospital.
“The Miami Herald article was a trainwreck,” DeSantis told reporters. “That was not a site that we were involved in in the Keys, what that was was one of the South Florida hospital systems went to this community and vaccinated a bunch of seniors. I think that’s great, I want seniors to get shots…”
Fried, however, levied more charges at DeSantis during today’s press conference, stating that DeSantis set up pop-up clinics in locations where donations were made to DeSantis. The Democrats claimed that areas like Sarasota and Charlotte counties were linked to DeSantis donors, stating that donations of $125,000 and $50,000 were part of a “pay-to-play” scheme by the Governor. Fried also pushed the report by the Herald that accused DeSantis of granting better access to the vaccine to 12,000 residents in the gated community.
The former marijuana lobbyist also took aim at DeSantis’s fundraising efforts, attaching the $2.7 million he raised in February to her allegations and pointing to a contribution made by former Republican Governor Bruce Raunerfollowed.
“First there were $85,000 campaign contributions from 17 of donors inside of this enclave, followed by another $250,000 check from the former GOP governor from Illinois,” Fried added.
Fried said that the vaccine sites were “not a coincidence,” noting her background as a public defender and her knowledge of “fact patterns.”
“I don’t need a law degree from Harvard to know when there is smoke there is fire,’ she quipped. “The fact pattern is simply just too clear to avoid: give campaign contribution big dollars, get special access to vaccines.”
Fried continued, saying she is asking the FBI to investigate allegations the governor used the vaccine for political gain.
“If this isn’t public corruption, I don’t know what is,” Fried exclaimed, tapping the podium. “I know that we will get to the bottom of this, so I am asking the FBI Public Corruption Unit to be investigating this.”
Following Fried’s announcement, Meredith Beatrice, who serves as DeSantis’s director of strategic initiatives, made it clear that pop-up sites had also been established in underserved communities and diverse neighborhoods.
At the Governor’s direction, Florida has worked with the faith-based community to administer vaccine at 59 sites in underserved communities across the state, administering more than 55,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine.
— Meredith Beatrice (@MeredithMBeat) March 4, 2021