Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ announcement this month that the state is partnering with Publix Supermarkets to establish COVID-19 vaccination sites across the state follows the grocer donating $100,000 to the governor’s political committee.
The partnership announcement between the state and supermarket chain comes a month after Publix made four $25,000 donations to Friends of Ron DeSantis.
Prior to the $100,000 in contributions made in December 2020, Publix had donated $50,000 to the governor’s political committee, the most recent of which was $25,000 given in January of 2020.
In an email to WJCT News, Publix Director of Communications Maria Brous said any inference of a connection between those contributions and the grocer’s partnership with the state on COVID-19 vaccinations is “absolutely incorrect.”
Brous added, “As a Florida-based company with more than 750 pharmacies throughout the state, Publix is well-positioned to serve as a partner in distributing the COVID-19 vaccine to Florida's residents. Our large footprint, infrastructure and distribution network across the state, as well as our experience with administering the flu vaccine (and other vaccines) and online scheduling technology, gives us the capability to efficiently deploy the vaccine. That expertise is critically needed at this time. In less than a week we have vaccinated more than 10,000 Floridians in only 22 of our stores. We are determined to do our part to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and serve our communities.”
Similarly, a spokeswoman for Gov. DeSantis said any insinuation that there is a connection between the contributions and the partnership with Publix is “baseless and ridiculous.”
“Governor DeSantis is focused on putting seniors first and is leaving no stone unturned in our efforts to ensure the vaccine is as accessible as possible to Florida’s broader 4.5 million senior population. The governor is building out Florida’s vaccine distribution infrastructure through innovative pilot programs, such as the ones we’ve launched with Publix, as well as with places of worship, senior living communities and converting state-run testing sites into vaccine testing sites,” spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice wrote in an email to WJCT. “Additionally, the governor directed the Florida Division of Emergency Management, Florida Department of Health and Florida National Guard to deploy strike teams to supplement the vaccination efforts of federal partners CVS and Walgreens at Florida’s over 4,000 long-term care facilities.”
Walgreens made one $25,000 contribution to the governor’s political committee back in February of 2020. CVS is not on the political committee’s list of contributors.
Neither Publix nor the governor’s office addressed a question from WJCT News about how long the state and the grocer had been in dialogue regarding the vaccination partnership.
On Jan. 5, Gov. DeSantis announced that Publix would be receiving 15,000 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from the state to launch a new pilot program at 22 Publix stores in Citrus, Hernando and Marion Counties.
“As part of our ongoing efforts to increase vaccinations and put Florida’s seniors first, I’m pleased to announce this innovative partnership with Publix,” Gov. DeSantis said. “At the end of the day, we are all in this together, and the state of Florida thanks Publix for their willingness to step up and lend their infrastructure to this critical cause.”
Then on Jan. 12 and again on Jan. 13, the governor announced that the state’s partnership with Publix was expanding.
The vaccines are now being offered at more than 100 stores across the state, according to Publix.
Publix came under fire in 2018 after it donated $670,000 to DeSantis’ gubernatorial opponent Adam Putnam, who called himself a “proud NRA sellout” and opposed stricter state gun laws passed after the Parkland school shooting, as was reported in The Tampa Bay Times.
The Friends of Ron DeSantis committee has raised more than $50 million to date and over a million dollars in November and December of 2020 alone.