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DeSantis, Publix: No Connection To $100K Donation And COVID Vaccine Program

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaking in front of the Sawgrass Village Publix in Ponte Vedra Beach.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaking in front of the Sawgrass Village Publix in Ponte Vedra Beach. A spokeswoman for DeSantis called the inference of a connection between the donations and Publix's selection as a vaccine site “baseless and ridiculous.”

The announcement this month that the state is partnering with Publix on vaccination sites comes a month after the supermarket chain made four $25K donations to governor’s political committee.

Publix and Gov. Ron DeSantis' office denied Thursday there is any connection between the supermarket chain's $100,000 donation to the governor's political committee and their COVID-19 vaccination partnership.

On Jan. 5, DeSantis announced the program in which the state would allocate vaccine doses to Publix pharmacies, where they would be distributed via appointment. As of Thursday, the program included 105 stores in 12 counties.

A month earlier, Publix made four $25,000 donations to Friends of Ron DeSantis
Prior to the $100,000 in contributions made in December, Publix had donated $50,000 to the governor’s political committee, the most recent of which was $25,000 given in January 2020.

On Thursday, spokespeople for the Lakeland-based chain and DeSantis rejected any notion that the donations are tied to Publix's selection as a vaccine partner.

"Absolutely incorrect," said Publix director of communications Maria Brous.

“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.”

A spokeswoman for DeSantis called the inference “baseless and ridiculous.”

“Gov. 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.

“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 in February 2020. CVS is not on the political committee’s list of contributors.

Neither Publix nor the governor’s office addressed a question from WJCT about how long the state and the grocer had been in dialogue regarding the vaccination partnership.

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. The program expanded this weeked to nine other counties.


Publix was publicly criticized 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.

The Friends of Ron DeSantis committee has raised more than $50 million to date and over a $1 million this past November and December.


Brendan Rivers can be reached at brivers@wjct.org, 904-358-6396 or on Twitter at @BrendanRivers.
Copyright 2021 WJCT News 89.9. To see more, visit WJCT News 89.9.