Republicans threaten to withhold vaccines from people they don't like

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Democratic lawmakers say using the vaccines as leverage 'is vile.'

Republican lawmakers are upset that coronavirus vaccines are going to groups of people they don't like — and in some cases, they're threatening to withhold them from those groups altogether.

On Wednesday, Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis became defensive when criticized for his vaccine distribution efforts, specifically his decision to provide "special access" to a planned community of seniors with ties to powerful Republicans, the Florida Sun-Sentinel reported. That community, Lakewood Ranch, is housed in the two wealthiest ZIP codes in Manatee County.

DeSantis, who has been criticized for his lax approach to the pandemic and for dismissing the severity of the crisis for months, defended his actions during a news conference Wednesday, adding, "If Manatee County doesn't like us doing this, we are totally fine with putting this in counties that want it."

Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D) quickly rebuked that comment, telling the Sun-Sentinel, "To threaten that he would pull vaccine if people don't like the way the distribution system is working is vile and shows the callous indifference he has had in how the vaccine has been handled. There is no reason that Gov. DeSantis should be rationing vaccines based on political influence."

DeSantis's behavior was "troubling and potentially illegal," she added. "Vaccines should be distributed to counties based on need, capacity, and science."

DeSantis is not alone in his actions. Fellow Republican Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio has also made questionable decisions of late when it comes to vaccine distribution, threatening to withhold doses from teachers and schools that aren't holding in-person learning at least part-time by March 1.

DeWine has claimed that schools choosing to continue virtual learning over safety concerns linked to the pandemic have broken an agreement the two sides made previously, doubling down on Tuesday, saying, "No matter what school it is, you should be back in March 1."

"I think taxpayers, I think the citizens of Ohio, but more importantly, the children, have a right to say, 'That was the agreement, you should go ahead and do that,'" DeWine said.

Ohio state Rep. Emilia Sykes and Sen. Vernon Sykes, both Democrats, pushed back in a statement, claiming there was "failed leadership from the top" that was preventing schools from reopening.

"We all want our kids back in school and our economy booming but we’ve been hindered by the failed leadership from the top that refuses to acknowledge where the real issues are, and instead places the blame on teachers, administrators and parents," they said.

In January, eight teachers unions accused DeWine of using the vaccine as a "bargaining chip" to force schools to open in unsafe conditions, adding that "parents across the state now have unrealistic expectations for a March 1 reopening that simply will not be possible in many school districts."

Threatening to withhold vaccinations has become a common theme among Republicans more broadly, who see them as leverage for their agendas.

On Tuesday, California Rep. Darrell Issa called on Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom to rescind an order that put medical marijuana retail workers higher on the vaccinations list than teachers.

"I am calling on Governor Newsom to rescind this order and reprioritize our law enforcement, our teachers and most vulnerable that still await vaccine access," Issa tweeted.

However, California Public Health Department's updated guidelines say that medical cannabis workers are classified as essential workers. United Cannabis Business Association president Jerred Kiloh told the Orange County Register that around 30,000 medical marijuana retail workers serve about 300,000 patients and customers daily.

"We need to protect them as front-line workers, because that's what they are," Kiloh said.

On Thursday, Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) drew backlash for racist comments suggesting "American citizens" should be vaccinated before "people that are Hispanic."

"I worked with people that are Hispanic. I mean they're very good workers," she said during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing. "You know, we're compassionate people, but for goodness' sake, we have to take care of American citizens, or people that are here legally, first."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 32% of Arizona's population is Latino.

Nationwide, more than 56 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered, with President Joe Biden suggesting that vaccines could be available to every American "by the end of July."

"[B]y next Christmas I think we'll be in a very different circumstance, God willing, than we are today," he added.

With additional reporting by Josh Israel.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.