By CBSMiami.com Team

MANATEE COUNTY (CBSMiami) – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is sparking controversy over the race to vaccinate.

At a news conference in West Central Florida Wednesday morning, DeSantis took exception with a Manatee County resident’s question asking why well-to-do areas of the county were getting more doses.

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He made a veiled threat to pull them.

“If Manatee County doesn’t like us doing this, we are totally fine with putting this in counties that want it. We’re totally happy to do that. So anyone that’s saying that, let us know. If you want us to send to Sarasota next time or Charlotte or Pasco or wherever, let us know, we’re happy to do it,” he said.

That didn’t sit well with State Sen. Annette Taddeo, who represents District 40 in Miami-Dade County.

“I was appalled. Frankly, I was just sitting there going, ‘What? What do you mean, you’re going to punish people because they’re critical?” she said.

According to a Tampa Bay Times report, the vaccines are reserved solely for residents of two ZIP codes, which cover most of Manatee County, including Lakewood Ranch.

It was also reported that DeSantis himself reached out to a wealthy Lakewood Ranch developer and offered to set up exclusive vaccinations sites.

“There was no choice to pick certain ZIP codes,” the governor said. “It was, we wanted to find communities that had high levels of seniors living there, and this obviously has a high concentration. You look at all these different communities and there’s a lot of senior citizens.”

He continued his attack on critics of the state’s vaccine distribution plan.

“And so, you know, there’s going to be folks that are going to complain about getting more vaccines. You know, I’ll tell you what, I mean, I wouldn’t be complaining. I’d be thankful that we’re able to do it,” he said. “Because you know what? We didn’t need to do this at all. We saw a need. We want to get the numbers up for seniors. And so the logical thing was, let’s go to where there’s a high concentration of seniors.”

Taddeo believes the latest choice of venue for these vaccine pods follows a distinct pattern – areas that supported the governor in his election get a shot in the arm.

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“We saw every single Publix in red areas get vaccines, but in blue areas we didn’t even have any Publix,” she said.

Miami-Dade, which is blue, has the most COVID cases in the state and the largest population. But Taddeo said it has disproportionately fewer doses.

The governor said close to 2 million seniors have gotten their shots.

He estimates the Lakewood Ranch vaccine pod can treat 30,000 seniors over the next couple of days.

“Not only was he a bully, but he was inappropriate, because again he’s the governor for all the people and criticism is welcomed in a democracy,” Taddeo said.

Other democrats piled on.

In a scathing statement, Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz said the governor “must stop playing politics with the vaccine distribution.”

“Threatening retribution and less vaccine access for communities that criticize the vaccine rollout for its problems is shameful and inhumane. Vaccine access is a life or death situation for so many Floridians, yet somehow Gov. DeSantis thinks it is OK to play favorites and punish anyone who criticizes him or his vaccine program,” he said. “This must stop. Floridians need a leader with empathy, not a politician who chooses politics over lives.”

It appears starting next week that Florida will start receiving an additional 41,000 doses of vaccine. Who gets them remains to be seen.

As for Wednesday’s news conference, Taddeo said there’s only one thing the governor should do.

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“He owes Manatee County an apology. He owes Miami-Dade County for not getting us our fair share as well,” she said.

CBSMiami.com Team