Manatee County – Courtesy: Shutterstock – Image by Ja7
The Florida COVID-19 vaccine chronicles continue.
One month after a West Palm Beach nursing home and assisted-living facility was called out by a Florida Senator for “immoral” vaccine distribution to wealthy donors: a Manatee County commissioner broke vaccine distribution protocol when planning a local vaccine drive launched by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh admitted that she “wanted to make sure certain people were on the list” for inoculation at a local community drive.
Emails revealed that the commissioner was in contact with county officials and had directed them to create a list allowing her and other specific individuals to skip the vaccination line. Think of it as “VIP” treatment.
CNN was able to pull an email via a public records request in which Baugh asked county workers to formulate a list of eligible vaccine recipients from only two zip codes to take part in the state-sponsored “pop-up” drive.
“Commissioner Baugh has asked we pull a list of those in the vaccine waiting pool that have listed 34202 and 34211 as their residence,” wrote Jacob Saur, Manatee County Public Safety Director.
The zip codes Baugh requested have average annual household incomes exceeding $90,000, placing them in the top-50 in the state of Florida, according to data from unitedstateszipcodes.org.
Baugh apologized for the criticism at a county commissioner meeting on Thursday, Feb 18. but doubled-down on her actions by saying, “I will do exactly what I did this time,” if given the opportunity to organize a similar event in the future. She then went on to explain, she “did exactly what (DeSantis) wanted” in setting up the drive.
Earlier this year, the Manatee County commissioners voted to create a system that would allow vaccines to get distributed through a random draw for eligible patients rather than having people rush to reserve available slots.
Despite voting to approve the measure unanimously, Baugh went against her own vote and directed city officials to seemingly manipulate the eligible recipients’ list. On top of requesting certain zip codes be pushed to skip the line, another email obtained via public records request revealed that the city commissioner directed that she and four others be catapulted to the front of the queue.
Among her “VIP list” were two residents who lived in other zip codes, not in her email request, but by simply being on the list, Baugh was guaranteeing that they would jump the line and receive appointments. All members on the VIP list did, however, qualify by state guidelines to receive the vaccine.
“I think instead of everyone seeming to have an issue, we need to realize it’s 3,000 people that are now going to be removed from our registry, which will open it up hopefully sooner to all of those that are left,” said Baugh. “It was my idea.”
DeSantis threatened to withhold additional vaccine doses from Manatee County after the commissioner he assigned to organize the drive was criticized for breaching protocol but did not criticize Baugh for her organization method.
“If Manatee County doesn’t like us doing this, then we are totally fine with putting this in counties that want it,” added DeSantis.
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Mike has more than 30 years of experience in marketing and public relations. He once owned his own agency and has worked with some of the largest brands in the world.