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Fried Calls For Federal Inquiry Into Vaccine Access For The Wealthy

an aerial view of the ocean reef club in north key largo
The Miami Herald
An aerial view shows Ocean Reef Club, a wealthy, gated community in north Key Largo. More than 1,200 elderly Ocean Reef residents received vaccinations in mid-January, well before doses arrived in most other areas of the state.

After learning that residents of the ultra-wealthy Ocean Reef Club in North Key Largo received coronavirus vaccines in early January — well before most Floridians had a chance to sign up for the shot — Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is renewing calls for a federal investigation into vaccine access in Florida.

The Miami Herald reported that "almost all" the residents of Ocean Reef who are 65 and older received the vaccine at the exclusive community's medical center. The Herald also reported that 17 residents donated $5,000 each to Gov. Ron DeSantis' political committee and that one of them, former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, sent $250,000 in late February.

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On Thursday, Fried called for the FBI to investigate how that happened and said consumers are not being treated fairly.

"The fact pattern is simply just too clear to avoid. Give campaign contribution big dollars, get special access to vaccines. Ahead of seniors, ahead of our teachers, ahead of our farm workers," Fried said.

At a Thursday press conference, DeSantis dismissed the Herald story as a "poorly executed hit piece." He said the Ocean Reef vaccinations came through a hospital system, not the state. But he said he was glad the residents got the shots.

"My view is, if you're 65 and up, I'm not worried about your income bracket, I'm worried about your age bracket," he said.

Fried is the only Democrat in office in Florida who was elected statewide and is reportedly considering a run against DeSantis next year. She had earlier called for Congress to investigate vaccine access in Florida after a state pop-up vaccine site served only residents of two wealthy ZIP codes in Manatee County.

Nancy Klingener was WLRN's Florida Keys reporter until July 2022.
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