Publix, the leading grocery chain in Florida, sharply denied the false impression made by CBS News’s 60 Minutes — that its pharmacies were tapped to distribute the vaccine, in part, because of a sizeable donation to the governor’s campaign — dismissing the narrative as “irresponsible,” as well as “absolutely false and offensive.”
“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,” the grocery chain said in a Monday statement.
“We are proud of our pharmacy associates for administering more than 1.5 million doses of vaccine to date and for joining other retailers in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia to do our part to help our communities emergence from the pandemic,” it added:
— Publix (@Publix) April 5, 2021
The statement follows a controversial segment aired on CBS News’s 60 Minutes, which featured a partial exchange between the Republican governor and 60 Minutes correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi.
“Publix, as you know, donated $100,000 to your campaign, and then you rewarded them with the exclusive rights to distribute the vaccination in Palm Beach,” Alfonsi told the governor, asking “how is that not pay-to-play?”
DeSantis adamantly denied the allegation, calling it a “fake narrative” and detailing the other pharmacies that have been involved in vaccine administration across the state while explaining that Publix stood as one of the main retailers “ready to go” and help.
However, CBS did not include the following portion of DeSantis’s comprehensive answer, which was as follows:
So, first of all, when we did, the first pharmacies that had it were CVS and Walgreens. And they had a long-term care mission. So they were going to the long-term care facilities. They got the vaccine in the middle of December, they started going to the long-term care facilities the third week of December to do LTCs. So that was their mission. That was very important. And we trusted them to do that.
As we got into January, we wanted to expand the distribution points. So yes, you had the counties, you had some drive through sites, you had hospitals that were doing a lot, but we wanted to get it into communities more. So we reached out to other retail pharmacies — Publix, Walmart — obviously CVS and Walgreens had to finish that mission. And we said, we’re going to use you as soon as you’re done with that.
For Publix, they were the first one to raise their hand, say they were ready to go. And you know what, we did it on a trial basis. I had three counties. I actually showed up that weekend and talked to seniors across four different Publix. How was the experience? Is this good? Should you think this is a way to go? And it was 100% positive. So we expanded it, and then folks liked it. And I can tell you, if you look at a place like Palm Beach County, they were kind of struggling at first in terms of the senior numbers.
Instead, 60 Minutes featured DeSantis’s line, “I went, I met with the county mayor. I met with the administrator. I met with all the folks in Palm Beach County, and I said, ‘Here’s some of the options: we can do more drive-through sites, we can give more to hospitals, we can do the Publix.'”
CBS News also cut out the portion where DeSantis noted the key factors contributing to the decision, including the calculations of 90 percent of seniors living within a mile and a half of a Publix:
So, we did that, and what ended up happening was, you had 65 Publix in Palm Beach. Palm Beach is one of the biggest counties, one of the most elderly counties, we’ve done almost 75 percent of the seniors in Palm Beach, and the reason is because you have the strong retail footprint. So our way has been multifaceted. It has worked. And we’re also now very much expanding CVS and Walgreens, now that they’ve completed the long term care mission.
"What you're saying is wrong," Gov DeSantis tells Sharyn Alfonsi in response to a question about whether the Publix grocery store chain gained influence through a campaign donation on his behalf. "It's wrong. It's a fake narrative," he says. https://t.co/gyrW9hYPTg pic.twitter.com/5rBq7v5VOA
— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) April 4, 2021
As of April 4, Florida administered over 10.5 million vaccinations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Florida, under DeSantis’s leadership, bested President Joe Biden’s goal of having vaccines available to all adults by May 1, expanding eligibility to everyone 16 and older, effective Monday, April 5.