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The Villages

Villagers and Floridians deserve straight answers on COVID-19 vaccinations

Frustration boiled over last week – and rightly so – when Villagers anxious to get the COVID-19 vaccine were left with no doses and no answers about when they might receive those cherished inoculations.

A local resident pulls into a makeshift drive-through COVID-19 vaccination clinic located in an empty field behind Red Lobster at Buffalo Ridge Plaza on Jan. 12 as Gov. Ron DeSantis holds a press conference.

All that remained at a controversial COVID-19 vaccination site near Buffalo Ridge Plaza in The Villages on Jan. 18 was a tent, a Porta Potty and eight handwash stations.

For the most part, the COVID-19 vaccination process has been nothing short of a nightmare in Florida. Gov Ron DeSantis, who always seems to be plotting his next political move, is staying busy running around the state and other parts of the country telling everyone how wonderful the vaccination process is going here. But he apparently isn’t hearing the anguish from seniors – the group most vulnerable to the virus and the biggest voting bloc by far in the Sunshine State – who desperately are seeking doses of the coveted vaccine. Oftentimes they have appointments to get those inoculations but when they show up, they find out the shots mysteriously aren’t available – even though they signed up in advance.

Such was the case on Jan. 12 when DeSantis rolled into Florida’s Friendliest Hometown with The Villages’ mask-less top political hack in tow to tout a makeshift drive-through vaccination clinic located in a grassy field near Buffalo Ridge Plaza. That visit followed one on Dec. 22 when the governor stopped at UF Health-The Villages Hospital and proudly stood by for a photo op as five high-profile Villagers with strong GOP ties received the vaccine before many in the medical field had gotten their shots.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, flanked by maskless Villages Vice President of Community Relations Gary Lester, talks about Florida’s plan to prioritize vaccinations for those 65 and older during a Jan. 12 stop in The Villages.

Gov. Ron DeSantis watches Villager Doug Tharp get a COVID-19 vaccine during a press conference at UF Health-The Villages Hospital on Dec. 22. Tharp is a former Villages Homeowners Association president who currently serves on the Village Center Community Development District Board of Supervisors.

During his latest visit, DeSantis couldn’t stop patting himself on the back as he talked about how successful the makeshift vaccination clinic, run by Global Medical Response, was going to be. He even suggested that if the healthcare provider could open up additional lanes for drive-through vaccinations, the chances of more doses coming this way was pretty favorable.

Four days later, appointments for 7,500 area residents eagerly awaiting the COVID-19 vaccine were suddenly postponed, with Global Medical Response blaming a “national shortage.” The company apparently stuck Sumter County sheriff’s deputies with the unpleasant task of telling arriving Villagers there were no more doses to give out. But in a statement they did promise that those people awaiting their first doses would be placed on hold until an adequate supply of vaccinations arrived.

Two days after that, the vaccination clinic was gone. It appeared as if Global Medical Response folks had quietly packed up overnight and slinked out of town before they had to answer tough questions. The only thing left behind to greet frustrated Villagers desperately seeking vaccinations was a tent, a Porta Potty and eight handwash stations.

The dismantled Global Medical Response COVID-19 vaccination site near Buffalo Ridge Plaza left many Villagers with canceled appointments frustrated and angry.

Of course, these are the same folks who already had created a heap of controversy when their online signup form asked for Social Security numbers and sensitive medical information – for a free vaccination. That questionable maneuver shook up many Villagers who already had been warned about a plethora of COVID-19 scams – some of which asked for credit card payments, Social Security numbers and sensitive medical information – for a supposedly free vaccinations. Residents were told that no reputable healthcare provider would do such a thing so they should be on alert for such practices.

Meanwhile, as this boondoggle was unfolding in The Villages, DeSantis was busy giving the keynote address to a meeting of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. In a talk that left some wondering if the governor was positioning himself for the 2024 presidential election, DeSantis spent plenty of time bragging about his COVID-19 vaccine distribution effort to a bunch of folks he didn’t represent.

If you ask us, it would been nice if he had instead made yet another appearance in The Villages to offer some kind of explanation to frustrated and scared residents who just want to be protected against the deadly virus. But taking responsibility for a failed effort that left 7,500 people without vaccinations isn’t the kind of thing that plays well when one has higher political aspirations, so DeSantis conveniently was nowhere to be found when the clinic he so proudly touted quietly shut down and slinked out of town with Villagers’ sensitive data in tow.

Travis Small

Interestingly, the PR rep for Global Medical Response contacted to provide an already widely circulated statement from the company and a list of frequently asked questions. But Travis Small, a senior vice president with Slowey McManus Communications, didn’t bother to respond to an inquiry from asking when and where a vaccination site in The Villages might be re-established when more vaccine became available.

Here’s the bottom line: Villagers and area residents deserve straight answers about when COVID-19 vaccinations will be available and how they can get them. They shouldn’t have to be a part of the shell game that happens when DeSantis so aptly plays the role of aspiring politician by making promises he can’t keep and then skipping town before things crumble like a house of cards.

Frankly, DeSantis should be ashamed of himself for making statements that simply aren’t true. He shouldn’t be making promises about vaccine availability if he isn’t absolutely sure that he’s providing accurate information. And when the things he promises don’t come true, he should stand up like a true leader and address them head-on instead of heading out of state to start his quasi-campaign for a spot in Washington, D.C. in 2024.

Villagers and all Floridians deserve better. There never should be a situation where 7,500 people are promised a vaccination against a deadly virus only to have the rug ripped out from underneath them at the last minute. That smacks of complete incompetence and when lives are at stake, it’s just not acceptable in any way.

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