Famous Florida enclave seniors furious as GOP-connected residents jump to the front of the vaccine line
CNN screenshot

Five residents of a sprawling Florida retirement community received doses of the coronavirus vaccine last week, with Gov. Ron DeSantis looking on, but others are wondering when they'll get their turn.

All five of those residents -- Diane Spencer, Steve Printz, Peter Moeller, Rich Cole and Doug Tharp -- have ties to the Republican Party, but residents of The Villages who lack those political ties are still waiting for the vaccine and growing angry about the lack of information, reported Villages-News.

"I am 78 with coronary artery disease and my wife is 74 and she recently suffered a brain aneurysm," said Villager Edward Kippel. "We want to know when we will be able to get the coronavirus vaccine. We understand that folks like us who live in Seminole County can get vaccines now. When will Sumter and Lake counties offer the same thing?"

Sumter County commissioner Oren Miller, who lives in The Villages, said 2,500 doses were shipped to the county, and 2,100 of those went to UF Health The Villages Hospital, and the other 400 went to medical personnel outside the retirement community.

"We are not getting information from the state. We are waiting on the state to tell us how many doses we will be getting and when they will arrive," Miller said. "We have no clue from the state when the second doses or more doses are coming."

The public information officer for the Sumter County Health Department said there was no line or registry to sign up for the vaccine, and Villagers say they've been unable to find out when or where they might be able to get their first dose.

"The phone numbers are unreachable," said Villager Kathy Strope. "Busy, then hang up, no online signup -- this is crazy. No way you can every get everyone signed up this way."

DeSantis promised that Florida, unlike other states, would prioritize senior citizens over essential workers, but the chief medical officer of The Villages Health, which operates six clinics in the community, has not given a timetable for vaccinations -- even as he warned Dec. 24 that the two main hospitals there were treating 94 patients with COVID-19, and 19 of those were in intensive care units.

"Local hospitalization numbers for COVID are at the highest they have been and are rising," warned Dr. Jeff Lowenkron in a Christmas Eve email obtained by The Daily Beast. "The Villages Health has seen an increase in positive test numbers in our test sites, as well as among our staff who are treating patients."

Residents and local media have noticed that DeSantis stood in the spotlight as five Villagers who've held elected office or positions with GOP clubs got their first doses of the vaccine, and all of them also have ties to Mark Gary Morse, the community's development director and a Republican donor.

"Even in the time of the coronavirus, it all depends on who you know," Marsha Shearer, a director for The Villages Democratic Club, told The Beast. "I think it comes down to who votes Republican among the old people who live in The Villages."

Most of The Villages is located in Sumter County, where 221 vaccinations have been given, according to the state health department, and 175,465 Floridians have gotten vaccinated so far, including 35,456 who are over 65 years old -- and Villagers are concerned they may be exposed to the virus while waiting to get their dose.

"I finally got in touch with someone and they informed me it was now first-come, first-serve starting on New Year's Day," said Kippel, the 78-year-old Villager with coronary artery disease. "I saw on TV people waiting in line in other parts of Florida. Some weren't wearing masks. It's scary."