Florida Governor DeSantis angrily denies vaccination pay-to-play allegations

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has furiously denied allegations that grocery chain Publix only landed a contract to distribute COVID-19 vaccines in the state after donating $100,000 to his political action committee.

Sunday night’s episode of 60 Minutes featured a testy exchange between correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi and the Republican governor, who slammed the allegations as a ‘false narrative.’

The CBS program revealed that weeks before Publix landed the lucrative contract, which allows it to bill Medicare $40 per shot to administer the vaccine, the chain donated to DeSantis’ PAC, Friends of Ron DeSantis. 

‘Publix, as you know, donated $100,000 to your campaign,’ Alfonsi said to 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,’ DeSantis shot back. 

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has furiously denied allegations that grocery chain Publix only landed a contract to distribute COVID-19 vaccines in the state after donating to his PAC

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has furiously denied allegations that grocery chain Publix only landed a contract to distribute COVID-19 vaccines in the state after donating to his PAC

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has furiously denied allegations that grocery chain Publix only landed a contract to distribute COVID-19 vaccines in the state after donating to his PAC

'How is that not pay for play?' 60 Minutes correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi grilled him at a press conference.  'The criticism here is that is pay for play, governor.'

'How is that not pay for play?' 60 Minutes correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi grilled him at a press conference.  'The criticism here is that is pay for play, governor.'

‘How is that not pay for play?’ 60 Minutes correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi grilled him at a press conference.  ‘The criticism here is that is pay for play, governor.’

‘How is that not pay for play?’ Alfonsi then asked.

‘That’s a fake narrative,’ DeSantis replied. ‘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.’

‘The criticism here is that is pay for play, governor,’ Alfonsi told DeSantis.

‘And it’s wrong, it’s wrong,’ the governor fired back. ‘It’s a fake narrative. I just disabused you of the narrative. And you don’t care about the facts. Because, obviously, I laid it out for you in a way that is irrefutable.’

The 60 Minutes report examined allegations of disparity in vaccine distribution in Palm Beach County, which is home to wealthy enclaves such as Palm Beach, but also has a large number of low-income and non-white residents.

The report alleged that the contract with Publix exacerbated those disparities, because the chain’s locations are far from the county’s poorest neighborhoods.

It also pointed out that Julie Jenkins Fancelli, heiress to the Publix fortune, has given $55,000 to the governor’s PAC in the past, and that Fancelli’s brother-in-law, Hoyt R. Barnett, a retired Publix executive, donated $25,000 in November.

60 Minutes revealed that weeks before Publix landed the lucrative contract, the chain donated to DeSantis' PAC, Friends of Ron DeSantis

60 Minutes revealed that weeks before Publix landed the lucrative contract, the chain donated to DeSantis' PAC, Friends of Ron DeSantis

60 Minutes revealed that weeks before Publix landed the lucrative contract, the chain donated to DeSantis’ PAC, Friends of Ron DeSantis

A Publix Food & Pharmacy store where COVID-19 vaccinations were being administered is seen in Palm Beach County. The chain says any claim that donations affected its vaccine contract 'is absolutely false and offensive'

A Publix Food & Pharmacy store where COVID-19 vaccinations were being administered is seen in Palm Beach County. The chain says any claim that donations affected its vaccine contract 'is absolutely false and offensive'

A Publix Food & Pharmacy store where COVID-19 vaccinations were being administered is seen in Palm Beach County. The chain says any claim that donations affected its vaccine contract ‘is absolutely false and offensive’

But critics accused 60 Minutes of deceptively editing the correspondent’s exchange with DeSantis, with conservative writer A.G. Hamilton pointing out that the CBS program ‘cut out several minutes’ of the governor’s comments explaining what led to the deal with Publix.

‘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,’ DeSantis said during a portion of the March 22 press conference omitted by 60 Minues.

‘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,’ DeSantis told 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 went on. 

‘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,’ DeSantis continued.

Critics accused 60 Minutes of deceptively editing the correspondent's exchange with DeSantis, who described at length the origins of the Publix contract

Critics accused 60 Minutes of deceptively editing the correspondent's exchange with DeSantis, who described at length the origins of the Publix contract

Critics accused 60 Minutes of deceptively editing the correspondent’s exchange with DeSantis, who described at length the origins of the Publix contract

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DeSantis insisted that Publix was the ‘first one to raise their hand’ to say they were ready to distribute the vaccine. 

They rolled out the vaccine on a ‘trial basis’ in three counties, which was met with ‘100 percent positive’ feedback from seniors, he said.

Addressing concerns in Palm Beach County, DeSantis said that while the county had ‘struggled’ initially with distribution, it had now vaccinated nearly three-quarters of all seniors, with distribution set to expand further.

In a statement to 60 Minutes after the report ran, a Publix spokesperson blasted the allegation that donations affected the vaccine contract. 

‘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.’  

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