A predominately Black farming community on Lake Okeechobee, Florida, does not have access to the coronavirus vaccine due to a distribution rights deal Gov. Ron DeSantis gave to a state supermarket chain.
Publix Supermarket, the state’s largest chain, has been given the sole distribution rights for Palm Beach County, however, the nearest Publix to Lake Okeechobee is at least 30 miles away. As a result, the mayors of Belle Glade, Pahokee, and South Bay have sent a letter to DeSantis asking him to expand the county’s distribution network as it will be impossible for Black senior citizens in these towns to get their shots.
According to U.S. News, some say it’s a problem in small communities statewide.
The mayors are requesting DeSantis set up distribution sites in low-income regions, which is currently being done in other parts of the state including Tampa and Orlando. On Monday, the Miami Herald reported that the state has used just half of the vaccines sent to the state although the vaccine is limited to medical providers and residents over 65.
Publix has referred all questions to DeSantis’s office. DeSantis signed off on the distribution deal this month. According to DeSantis, 90% of Palm Beach County seniors live with 1.5 miles of a Publix Supermarket. There are more than 60 Publix Supermarkets in the county but, the closest Publix to Pahokee is 38 miles away. The closest Publix to Belle Grade is 33 miles away and 37 miles away from South Bay.
The coronavirus pandemic hit Florida hard as DeSantis didn’t install restrictions until after the spring break holiday. Not only did that have an effect on the state as cases skyrocketed in the later weeks, but also in other states as students returned home.
Residents in the state were also crushed by the economic effects of the pandemic. Former Mayor Rick Scott intentionally made the state’s unemployment site as difficult as possible to keep numbers down. That led to long lines at unemployment offices at the beginning of the pandemic, which likely inflated numbers.