DeSantis Denies Race Plays Role In Vaccine Access; Jacksonville Doctor Disagrees

Feb 1, 2021

African Americans are 1.4 times as likely to contract the coronavirus as their white counterparts, and 2.8 times as likely to die from it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But despite this, Blacks are being vaccinated at lower rates than whites. A recent decision by Governor Ron DeSantis to increase the number of vaccine sites at Publix pharmacies might further that disparity.

According to census data and mapping software, Publix stores are disproportionately located in majority white neighborhoods. 

Click here to view the map.

“We talk about food deserts all the time, and where there’s a food desert, there’s also typically a pharmacy desert, too,” said Duval County Medical Society Foundation head Dr. Sunil Joshi. 

Joshi took to Twitter Sunday night over his frustration with the vaccination process, particularly the ways in which African Americans disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic are being disadvantaged when it comes to the strongest weapons against it.

DeSantis responded to the allegations in a press conference Monday, saying efforts to engage Black churches were proving successful. “All of our other sites, community sites, the Publix, the hospitals - just just to be clear - there's not any type of racial discrimination, they're not accounting for race,” DeSantis said. “It's all based on age, regardless of any of that. And so that's obviously the way it needs to be.”

Tension over access to the vaccine is brewing locally as well. WJCT news partner The Florida Times-Union reported Monday that African American community leaders were asking Mayor Lenny Curry for a greater role in the decision-making around vaccination sites. 

“Nothing negative about Publix; Publix is a great company. But what I would suggest is that we extend this type of contract to other entities that are located in communities of color where there is not a Publix,”  Dr. Richard Danford, President of the Jacksonville Urban League, told WJCT News Monday. 

Danford is among the community leaders that signed the letter. “It just seems to me that more effort should be made to provide the service to all of our residents throughout the community.” 

Curry’s office responded Monday to the letter, saying the issue was not with distribution, but rather with the supply coming from the federal government. 

Dr. Joshi will be discussing the topic further as a guest on Tuesday’s First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross.

Contact Sydney Boles at sboles@wjct.org or on Twitter at @sydneyboles.