Several members of the Palm Beach County Commission expressed outrage Tuesday, Jan. 26 at the state’s method of distribution for the COVID-19 vaccine, which favors private corporations over public health agencies.
The state, acting under orders from Gov. Ron DeSantis, has opened distribution to Publix, Walgreens, CVS, certain churches and private senior communities, along with public health agencies, which commissioners claim has resulted in a lack of equity of distribution to poorer and non-white communities.
The vaccine has been in short supply, and state and federal agencies have been unable to keep up with demand, leading to heavy contention over who should receive the vaccine first.
The Florida Department of Health-Palm Beach County has reserved much of its available vaccine to give second doses to those who have received their first shot, according to Dr. Alina Alonso, the department’s director.
County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay said the state giving authority to private corporations has resulted in a shortage to many communities in the county, with the white population receiving the vast majority of the available vaccine.
“I am absolutely disgusted that the governor of this state has 100 percent taken the ability to vaccinate our residents in Palm Beach County out of the hands of public officials and medical officials and given that authority to a corporate entity,” McKinlay said, adding that she did not understand how Publix staff could be equipped with enough technical staff to administer that many vaccines.
She pointed out that west of the Publix store in Loxahatchee Groves, there is not another for 186 miles on State Road 80.
“That’s in Lee County,” McKinlay said, adding that the health department in rural Glades and Hendry counties, which is a combined department, stated on its web site that it no longer has COVID-19 vaccine available at this time and is not scheduling more appointments.
Commissioner Robert Weinroth agreed that there is a disparity in the county’s vaccine distribution.
“I think one of the concerns of all of us up here is the lack of equity within our county,” Weinroth said. “I think one of the things that is glaring in the presentation is the 3 percent and 4 percent for black and Hispanic residents… We need to do more.”
He pointed out that the county’s minority areas are probably the worst in percentages of receiving the vaccine.
“People down in Boca are finding a way to get the vaccine, people in Delray, people in our more affluent neighborhoods are finding their way in,” Weinroth said. “We can’t lose sight of the fact that we have a whole underserved population.”
Alonso said the health department’s phone system is operating to take appointments after it had a brief crash, although the demand for vaccines far outstrips the availability.
“If the supply of the vaccine continues the way it is now, we’re going to wind up with another wait list,” she said. “We are asking them to try to go to Publix, and some of them are getting through. I don’t know if it’s hit or miss, or some people are getting up really early, and they get on that web site right away.”