Do not mess with Publix.

The 60 Minutes television show aired a critical segment last Sunday on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and dragged the popular Lakeland-based supermarket chain into the controversy.

It’s one thing to pick on Gov. DeSantis, but don’t go dragging our favorite supermarket into the mayhem.

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The 60 Minutes segment suggested that Publix received the contract to dispense the COVID vaccine in Florida because the private company contributed $100,000 to the governor’s 2022 re-election campaign.

Publix is the largest supermarket chain in Florida and they are excellent corporate citizens. They frequently make campaign contributions to conservative candidates in the state because they have a conservative philosophy.

They didn’t secretly slip Gov. DeSantis $100,000 in a brown paper bag and ask for favors. They publicly made a campaign contribution through the official process as they do for many conservative candidates.

Publix was selected to distribute the vaccine to the public because they were the first organization to raise their corporate hand and volunteer. In addition, they are a big company with lots of store locations and existing employees. They were ready and willing to help.

Both CVS and Walgreens actually got the COVID vaccine first in Florida, but they were following the original protocol and getting the shots to senior care facilities throughout the state.

Publix was the first to offer the vaccine to the public because they have 831 stores around the state. That is a huge head start over other retailers. Walmart stepped up after Publix and volunteered to dispense the vaccine, but they only have 386 locations in the state. Publix was ready to go first and speed of delivery was a key measure.

60 Minutes got off track in their report as they tried to show that Gov. DeSantis was steering the vaccine to high-income zip codes with the assistance of Publix.

Palm Beach County, the focus of the television segment, has very wealthy zip codes along the coastal areas and then very low-income communities in the rural western part of the county. The Publix stores are located in the coastal areas because that’s where they can make money selling food.

You cannot blame a private company for not opening stores in the more rural areas where they believe they can’t make money. If you look at the county to our north — there are no Publix locations in Levy County because of the rural nature of the area.

Gov. DeSantis did a smart thing by creating the partnerships with private businesses because the state could depend on an existing infrastructure of locations and personnel.

Publix took a huge risk in collaborating with the state to provide the vaccine because they opened themselves up to criticism. In the beginning, they got plenty of it.

They created a process of accepting appointments for the vaccine and it was very frustrating. Millions of Floridians immediately wanted the vaccine and each of the stores were only given less than 1,000 doses each time a new batch became available.

They got angry phone calls and complaints, but they carried on. I spent many mornings with a 6 a.m. log-on time to the Publix website before I finally secured my own vaccination appointment.

True, Publix and every other company that has assisted with the vaccine distribution has been paid for the service. But if the state had to expand each of the 67 county health departments to do the vaccine job it would be another two years before everyone would get their shots.

It was also true that in the beginning, computer and internet access was necessary to make an appointment and lower income residents do not have the same availability of those services as others. However, this was our first worldwide pandemic in a century so there was a steep learning curve.

You can pick on our politicians, but Publix is the kind of company that makes other states envious. They are committed members of each of the communities they serve and since 2011 have donated 281 million meals to the Feeding America Network.

In Citrus County, they have been huge supporters of the food bank and other charitable causes. When Citrus County residents came together to raise the funds to build our new YMCA, Publix donated $100,000 in cash.

You can pick on our politicians — their egos are all big enough to take it. But when you pick on Publix, you’re messing with the rest of us.

Gerry Mulligan is the publisher of the Chronicle. Email him at gmulligan@chronicleonline.com.

(1) comment

ChinaJoeBiden

Such hypocrisy.. Unfair to "pick on" Publix.. but ok to "pick"on our outstanding Governor DeSantis who has probably been the most effective Governor in the United States during this pandemic..He has been vilified and lied about, yet the local newspaper gives the mainstream media a pass once again..

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