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Florida to allocate portion of COVID-19 vaccines for western Palm Beach County communities

Vaccines 'to serve areas where Publix isn't an option,' says Commissioner Melissa McKinlay
In some areas of The Glades, the closest Publix is at least 25 miles away, officials say.jpg
Posted at 2:00 PM, Jan 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-29 17:20:36-05

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — The state of Florida is diverting a portion of COVID-19 vaccines that were supposed to go to Publix, and will instead allocate them for rural, underserved communities in western Palm Beach County.

Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, whose district covers the Glades and other western areas, broke the news Friday on Twitter.

McKinlay said that after speaking with Florida Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz, a portion of the vaccines will now be diverted to the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County and the Health Care District of Palm Beach County "to serve areas where Publix isn't an option."

In addition, the state is planning to set up a point of distribution site in Belle Glade.

Health officials said earlier this week that Publix is the primary distributor of the COVID-19 vaccine in Palm Beach County.

However, McKinlay and other western Palm Beach County leaders have expressed concerns with that plan, saying it's incredibly difficult for residents in The Glades to travel to Publix to receive the vaccine, citing the long distance and lack of transportation

"We're moving all of this into the hands of Publix, and yet when you leave Loxahatchee Groves, the Publix that's located there, you have to travel 108 miles until you get to the next Publix on State Road 80. That's in Lee County. That's in Lehigh Acres in Lee County," McKinlay said during Tuesday's county commission meeting.

That same day, the mayors of Belle Glade, Pahokee and South Bay sent Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis a letter, urging him to find a more convenient way to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine than through Publix.

The mayors said that for Belle Glade residents, the closest Publix is 25 miles away, 27 miles away for Pakokee residents, and 32 miles away for South Bay residents.

"In more affluent communities, none of those distances would be a barrier to getting the vaccine; people would simply get in their vehicles and drive to the Publix nearest their homes," the letter read. "For Glades residents, however, many do not own vehicles of their own but walk everywhere they go."

The mayors called that lack of transportation a "formidable barrier" that's preventing residents from getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

"The only way for many of these people to obtain the vaccine will be to use public transportation to travel some 30 miles, possibly with a small child or children in tow, wait in line, then make the return 30-mile trip again via public transportation," the letter read.

The Publix vaccine appointment system has come under fire recently, with registration slots filling up with seconds of going online, leaving many residents frustrated and unable to get vaccinated.

New appointment slots opened at 6 a.m. Friday and were completely booked 90 minutes later.

McKinlay told WPTV that 5,000 doses from Publix have been diverted to the county health department, although not all 5,000 will be going to the western communities.

No other details have been released about the vaccine distribution plan in western Palm Beach County.