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Why is Florida diverting COVID-19 vaccines in Palm Beach County to Publix?

'Almost like a lottery:' Frustrated senior still unable to book appointment
Posted at 5:54 PM, Jan 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-27 18:17:33-05

BOCA RATON, Fla. — Stephanie Donner is still trying her hand at winning what's become a vaccine lottery.

"I don't want to be one of those people you see on TV and you're in bed hooked up to machines," Donner said.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Coronavirus

For weeks we've documented efforts by the Boca Raton senior to get inoculated against COVID-19.

She sent emails, made phone calls and again Wednesday morning tried unsuccessfully to get an appointment at Publix.

"I had my iPad, iPhone and computer already on the page, and by 7:40 [a.m.], everything was booked in Palm Beach County," Donner said.

Stephanie Donner
Stephanie Donner of Boca Raton has been trying unsuccessfully for weeks to book an appointment to get a COVID-19 vaccine in Palm Beach County.

Her efforts come as the state is now diverting first-round vaccines away from the local department of health to 67 Publix locations in Palm Beach County.

RELATED: Mayors send letter to DeSantis, calling Publix vaccine plan 'unacceptable'

That decision seemed to catch some by surprise, including State Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton.

"I thought Publix was going to come in and supplement these efforts, not take over these efforts," she said.

Slosberg told Contact 5 that she already reached out to the state's emergency management office to request more vaccines be sent to the department of health for the 73,000 seniors stuck on a waiting list.

When asked during a county news conference last week if the health department would receive fewer vaccines because of Publix, Dr. Alina Alonso said, "I don't know."

Verdenia Baker
Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker says she was not aware that vaccines would stop being distributed to the local department of health.

Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker met with Gov. Ron DeSantis during his stop in Palm Beach County earlier this month.

Baker told Contact 5 over the phone Wednesday that the governor never discussed allocations of the vaccine during his visit. We also asked her if the governor ever said the vaccines were going to Publix and not to the local department of health.

"No, he did not make that statement," Baker said over the phone.

Baker said more doses are now flowing into Palm Beach County through Publix than what we received with just the health department.

"It's almost like a lottery. You're trying to be a winner and get on the system," Donner said. "We need more vaccines, and we need more than just Publix."

A spokesperson with the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County told Contact 5 that requests for the 73,000 seniors on the initial waiting list are now being handled by the Health Care District of Palm Beach County, not the department of health.

Numbers from the state show more than 137,000 Palm Beach County residents have already been vaccinated, second only to Miami-Dade County.

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