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In Palm Beach County, Some Vaccine Doses Shift From Publix To Farming Areas

palm beach commissioner Melissa McKinlay.png
Last week, County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay called the original Publix plan "disgusting" because "half of our county is geographically located in an area not serviced at all by a single Publix."

The change comes after a public outcry over a decision to give Publix sole distribution rights in the county, leaving the rural population isolated with the nearest store 25 miles away.

The predominantly Black farming communities on the shore of Lake Okeechobee are getting a coronavirus vaccine station.

That comes after a public outcry over a decision to give Publix sole distribution rights in Palm Beach County, leaving the rural population isolated with the nearest store 25 miles away.

State Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz said the state will set up a vaccine station in Belle Glade to serve it and its neighboring towns of Pahokee and South Bay. The station will get 5,000 doses. That’s about how many people 65 and older live in the area.

It was another week of very limited supply and overwhelming demand for COVID-19 vaccinations in South Florida. The number of people receiving first-dose shots dropped in the past week compared to a week earlier.

But some vials that were destined for Publix pharmacies in Palm Beach County instead will be going instead to the agricultural communities along Lake Okeechobee.

Palm Beach County saw the highest number of first-time vaccinations among the South Florida counties this past week, with almost 30,000 people receiving their first doses. Most people got their shots at 67 Publix pharmacies under a partnership announced by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

It's a strategy that County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay called "disgusting" on Tuesday.

"I am incensed right now that we are dealing with a situation in a county as large as ours — geographically and by population — where more than half of our county is geographically located in an area not serviced at all by a single Publix," she said at the time.

On Friday, McKinlay learned some of those doses Publix was due to receive will instead be diverted to the county's division of the state Department of Health, to be distributed in the western part of the county.

McKinlay said she spoke with Moskowitz last Monday before learning the county's entire vaccine supply would be directed toward Publix. Then, she said, Moskowitz called her Friday, just after noon.

"He ... let me know that he would be diverting a portion of the vaccines allocated for Publix to the Health Department in the health care district to serve the communities that are not serviced by a Publix pharmacy," she said on the "South Florida Roundup." "We shouldn't have had to have that conversation in the first place."

McKinlay pledged the county Health Department "will be able to distribute this efficiently."

Meantime, Miami-Dade County plans to receive 2,900 doses of vaccine in the coming week. That's the same it received this past week, according to Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. This allotment is the county's share of vaccine supply sent to the area.

"The demand is so impressive and we just need more vaccine. We are ready to quadruple the delivery in Miami-Dade County across all of our distribution sites. And we want it. We need it. We're clamoring for it from the federal government and from the state government," she said.

The county is not holding back second doses as Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees advised hospitals last week.

"We've been assured that second doses are coming, and second doses have been coming," the mayor said. The county has not been asked to hold doses in reserve, according to Levine Cava.

Through Thursday, about 24,000 people in Miami-Dade received their first dose of a vaccine. That is a big drop from a week earlier when more than 42,000 were vaccinated for the first time.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Copyright 2021 WLRN 91.3 FM.

In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.
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