Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is denying the state had any involvement in a vaccine drive at a private, gated community after questions arose about a $250,000 donation from a resident to a PAC supporting him following the drive.
Ocean Reef Club resident and former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner made the massive donation to the Friends of Ron DeSantis PAC on February 25, after a vaccine drive was held in January. That donation makes Rauner one of the PAC’s top donors.
CNN has reached out to Rauner for comment on the timing of the donation but did not immediately receive a response.
The news of the donation comes as DeSantis has drawn significant criticism after the state helped set up vaccine drives in other wealthy communities in Florida.
“We had nothing to do with it,” DeSantis said at a news conference on Thursday morning, refuting allegations he initiated the drive. “The state was not involved with that.”
DeSantis went on to claim it was a South Florida hospital system — which he did not identify — responsible for the vaccine drive. “They thought it made sense to go and do 65-plus. I think it was a smart decision to do that,” DeSantis said.
Monroe County spokesperson Kristen Livengood said they were not aware of the vaccine drive at the time, but identified the hospital system as the Medical Center at Ocean Reef.
“They received the vaccines as part of the Governor’s program to vaccinate communities with a population of 65+ with a homeowner’s association and onsite medical center with the ability to administer the vaccines,” Livengood told CNN in a statement. “The allocations were coordinated through Baptist (Health hospital system) and the State of Florida, not through Monroe County.”
CNN has not been able to confirm how many vaccinations were distributed by the Medical Center at Ocean Reef, or whether they were restricted to residents living at Ocean Reef Club.
CNN reached out to the Medical Center at Ocean Reef for comment.
“Baptist Health has been working with the State of Florida to provide logistical support to distribute COVID-19 vaccine doses across the South Florida community through hospitals, clinics and partners, from Palm Beach to the Florida Keys, including the Medical Center at Ocean Reef,” Baptist Health spokesperson Dori Alvarez told CNN in a statement. “Our mission is simply to get as many shots out as we can, as safely and as fast as we can, based on guidance from the State and vaccine availability.”
Alvarez did not respond to questions about how the decision was made to send vaccines to Ocean Reef Club.
According to Florida Department of Health statistics from January 22, the vaccinations at the Ocean Reef Club represented over 20 percent of all vaccinations in Monroe County, which spans the entire Florida Keys and parts of mainland Florida. Those statistics also show that with at least 1,200 vaccinations reported by the Miami Herald, the Ocean Reef Club had more people vaccinated at the time than eight Florida counties.
CNN confirmed there was a vaccine drive at the community through another edition of the community newsletter from January.
The Miami Herald was first to report the donation and the vaccine drive, citing a community newsletter that said 1,200 residents of the community had been vaccinated as of January 22.
CNN has reached out to Ocean Reef Club for comment but did not immediately hear back.
Democratic US Rep. and former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist asked the DOJ to investigate DeSantis on February 21, and whether the vaccine drives benefit DeSantis’ political allies and donors.
Meredith Beatrice, DeSantis’ director of strategic initiatives, previously sent an email to CNN saying, in part, “The insinuation that politics play into vaccine distribution in Florida is baseless and ridiculous.”