The controversial “60 Minutes” report targeting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, R., over a so-called “pay for play” vaccination scheme also knocked the Republican for prioritizing seniors in his state’s COVID vaccine rollout.
The CBS News program is facing intense backlash for deceptively editing an exchange DeSantis had with “60 Minutes” correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi, regarding a narrative she pushed alleging the grocery store chain Publix was rewarded with vaccine distribution rights after contributing $100,000 to his campaign. However, the report also appeared to condemn his decision to vaccinate the elderly in his state over younger frontline workers.
Alfonsi went even further by casting doubt on DeSantis’ reasoning behind that decision, which was that seniors were the most vulnerable to the virus.
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“Florida’s rollout started pretty typically. The first doses were given to healthcare workers and nursing home residents in early December,” Alfonsi began. “But then, a few weeks later, Gov. Ron DeSantis, breaking from CDC guidelines, announced he would not vaccinate teachers and essential workers next but instead put seniors first, making anyone 65 and over eligible for the vaccine, the first in the country to do that.”
“DeSantis said seniors were at highest risk,” she added, implying that it was an unsubstantiated claim made by the governor rather than following the science that showed a substantially larger death toll amongst older Americans.
Recent demographic data from the Centers for Disease Control shows about 80 percent of coronavirus deaths have been among ages 65 and older, and 95 percent of them among those over age 50.
The report went on to suggest DeSantis was to blame for having Florida’s 4.5 million seniors “compete against each other” to get the vaccine and for the state’s Health Department phone lines “failing” and websites “crashing.”
Later in the segment, Alfonsi confronted DeSantis at a March press conference over her allegation that Publix paid its way to get the vaccine first.
“Publix, as you know, donated $100,000 to your campaign,” Alfonsi began in the clip. “And then you rewarded them with the exclusive rights to distribute the vaccination in Palm Beach –“
“First, of all what you’re saying is wrong,” DeSantis interrupted.
“How is that not pay for play?” Alfonsi then asked.
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“That’s a fake narrative,” DeSantis replied. “I met with the county mayor, I met with the administrator, I met with all the folks at Palm Beach County and I said, ‘Here’s some of the options: We can do more drive-thru sites, we can give more to hospitals, we can do the Publix.’ And they said, ‘We think that would be the easiest thing for our residents.”
Alfonsi then narrated that Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay claimed DeSantis “never met with her about the Publix deal.”
“The criticism here is that is pay for play, governor,” Alfonsi told DeSantis.
“And it’s wrong, it’s wrong,” the governor shot back. “It’s a fake narrative. I just disabused you of the narrative. And you don’t care about the facts. Because, obviously, I laid it out for you in a way that is irrefutable.”
The full response from DeSantis to Alfonsi’s questions was mostly omitted from the on-air report.
Conservative writer A.G. Hamilton noted the CBS program “cut out several minutes” of the governor’s comments explaining what led to the deal with Publix.
“First of all, the first pharmacies that had [the vaccine] 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 in December to do LTCs,” DeSantis told Alfonsi. “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.
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“So yes, you had the counties, you had some drive-thru 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,” DeSantis continued.
He went on to say Publix the “first one to raise their hand” to say it was ready to distribute the vaccine. It rolled out the vaccine on a “trial basis” in three counties, which was met with “100% positive” feedback from seniors.
DeSantis later added that while Palm Beach County initially “struggled” with its distribution among seniors, nearly “75 percent” of seniors had been vaccinated, as well as that vaccine distribution was “expanding” with CVS and Walgreens following their long-term care (LTC) mission.
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“They literally cut out him explaining the whole process including who was responsible for LTCs (not Publix), how Publix raised their hand as [CVS/Walgreens] was doing LTCs, how they had a trial to test it, why it worked, & how now CVS/Walgreen’s are being used now,” Hamilton tweeted.
CBS did not respond to Fox News’ inquiry as to whether “60 Minutes” stood behind the edited exchange.
Publix called the notion that it received special access “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,” a Publix spokesperson told Fox News. “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 emerge from the pandemic.”