WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A top Palm Beach County official on Tuesday demanded that "60 Minutes" apologize for a scathing report that accused Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis of favoring Publix and wealthy communities during the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
The 13-minute report, which aired Sunday night on CBS, claimed that Publix donated $100,000 to DeSantis' reelection campaign shortly before the grocery store chain was chosen as the primary distributor of the coronavirus vaccine in Palm Beach County.
"I'm not gonna say [the report] was intentionally false, but it intentionally left half the story off the table," Vice Mayor Robert Weinroth said at Tuesday's county commission meeting. "I think that the article and the way that CBS dealt with this county was unfair, and I think they owe this county an apology, and I think they owe this state an apology."
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The "60 Minutes" report highlighted that when Publix took over vaccination efforts in Palm Beach County back in January, many elderly residents in the low-income western communities of The Glades were neglected because they live roughly 30 miles from the closest Publix.
Weinroth said that when county commissioners recognized that shortfall, they immediately jumped into action.
"This body made the decision to work to get those vaccines out to the western communities, into the inner cities, into the minority communities," Weinroth said. "All of that seemed to have been ignored by that article."
Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, whose district represents The Glades and other western areas, said that after discussions with Florida's Division of Emergency Management, shipments of the vaccine were rerouted and allocated to those underserved communities.
McKinlay added that no county commissioners appeared in the "60 Minutes" report because it didn't fit the broadcast's narrative.
"They had a different narrative. They chose to let other elected leaders to lead that narrative, and we didn't participate in it," McKinlay said.
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"I felt that [the report] ignored what this body here has been doing through this pandemic," Weinroth said, while also admitting that the COVID-19 vaccine rollout could've been better. "The vaccinations certainly could've been done more efficiently. We're never gonna say this was the best job we could've done."
The vice mayor went on to call the suggestion that DeSantis was manipulated by campaign contributions from Publix "patently false."
"Every one of us sitting up here takes contributions. That's a part of being up here. That's how we get elected. We need money to promote ourselves so that we can get elected," Weinroth said.
On Monday, Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner released a statement calling the "60 Minutes" report "intentionally false" and based on "bad information."
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Kerner claimed that he and County Administrator Verdenia Baker met with DeSantis and asked for vaccination efforts in Palm Beach County to be expanded to Publix.
"There's nothing that's gonna shake this board's solidarity in our focus and our mission and what we have to do together as a team," Kerner said at Tuesday's county commission meeting.
"I think this county can be proud of the way that it has stood up to this virus," Weinroth said. "I think that we have been well-served by this governor."
Publix also released a statement about the "60 Minutes" report, saying, "The irresponsible suggestion that there was a connection between campaign contributions made to Governor DeSantis and our willingness to join other pharmacies in support of the state's vaccine distribution efforts is absolutely false and offensive."
CBS News released this statement to WPTV about the criticism being aimed at the "60 Minutes" report:
"When Florida state data revealed people of color were vaccinated at a much lower rate than their wealthier neighbors, 60 MINUTES reported the facts surrounding the vaccine’s rollout, which is controlled by the governor. We requested and conducted interviews with dozens of sources and authorities involved. We requested an interview with Gov. Ron DeSantis, he declined; We spoke to State Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz twice, but he declined to be interviewed on camera for our story until well after our deadline. The idea we ignored their perspective is untrue. Counter to his statement yesterday, we also spoke on the record with Palm Beach County Mayor David Kerner. For over 50 years, the facts reported by 60 MINUTES have often stirred debate and prompted strong reactions. Our story Sunday night speaks for itself."
SPECIAL COVERAGE: Coronavirus
Speaking to commissioners on Tuesday, Palm Beach County's top health official said a "tremendous" amount of vaccine is now flowing into the county.
"We've got a lot of vaccine right now. We need to take advantage of that and get everybody vaccinated," Dr. Alina Alonso said. "Our focus has to be on vaccinating as many people as we possibly can."
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All Floridians ages 18 and older, as well as 16 and 17-year-olds receiving the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, can now get their shots.
Alonso told commissioners she's optimistic because the vaccine is being "rapidly deployed" and the state's increase has been "significant" over the last few weeks.
"People are responding to the vaccine. We've had an excellent response rate here in Palm Beach County," Alonso said.
According to the latest numbers from the Florida Department of Health, 465,615 people have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 in Palm Beach County. 76% of those patients are 65 and older, according to health officials.
Alonso said she expects even more vaccine to come on board in the next three to four weeks, which could open the door for doctor's offices to begin administering shots.
"At that point, we're actually talking about having now the physicians getting the vaccine," Alonso said, adding that while physicians can now order shipments of the vaccine, some doctors don't want to administer it in their offices because they don't want to store it.
IN-DEPTH COVERAGE: WPTV shows where to get COVID-19 vaccine
The Health Care District of Palm Beach County is now vaccinating eligible residents by appointment only at three locations: South Florida Fairgrounds near West Palm Beach, South Florida Civic Center in west Delray Beach, and the Burns Road Community Center in Palm Beach Gardens. The sites offer both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
The Health Care District has launched a self-scheduling tool that allows you to make an appointment at any time in real-time, provided that slots are open.
To make an appointment through the Health Care District of Palm Beach County, click here.
"I recommend that people accept whatever vaccine is available," Alonso said. "I highly recommend that whatever vaccine is available, that's the one we go ahead and get vaccinated with."