Publix: Where political giving to DeSantis helped get no-bid COVID vaccine business

Photo: Phillip Pessar via Wikimedia Commons

By Francisco Alvarado,

By partnering with Publix to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine to senior citizens, Gov. Ron DeSantis handed the Lakeland-based grocery chain a lucrative new business that has charged millions of dollars to Medicare, Medicaid and private insurers.

Between Jan. 5 and Feb. 3, Publix received 271,800 doses of the Moderna vaccine from the Florida Division of Emergency Management, the state agency in charge of sending vaccine doses to hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and other healthcare entities administering the vaccine to frontline healthcare workers and Florida residents 65 and over. Publix is also providing vaccine doses at some pharmacy locations in Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia.

According to a Feb. 12 press release, the company has given more than 250,000 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to customers in Florida and another 50,000 in the three other states.

Publix CEO Todd Jones
Todd Jones

“There is tremendous demand for this vaccine, and we are grateful our customers are looking to and trusting us to provide it,” said Publix CEO Todd Jones in the release. “It is our hope that continued collaborations with the states in our operating area and the federal government will allow us to quickly increase the number of customers we can vaccinate in the weeks ahead.”

The press release, however, doesn’t address how administering vaccine shots is a potential multi-million dollar revenue stream for the Florida-grown firm that in December alone donated $112,500 to DeSantis’s reelection campaign and the Republican Party of Florida.

Publix gets governor’s nod

A month later, the governor announced Publix would be the first grocery retail corporation to immunize seniors in the state. Even though COVID-19 inoculations are free to patients, Publix is being paid to put shots into arms.

“While there is no out of pocket cost to the customer/patient, providers are able to bill Medicare or if uninsured, bill the federal uninsured program for the administration of the vaccine,” Publix spokeswoman Maria Brous said in an email response to Florida Bulldog. “It is the same across all states.”

gov. ron desantis
Gov. Ron DeSantis

For people who have Medicare or who have no insurance, providers can bill $16.94 for the first dose and $28.39 for the second dose, for a total of $45.33. According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, private insurers are to use the Medicare rates as a baseline for vaccine payments. That means Publix has already potentially billed more than $4.2 million for providing first-time vaccine shots in Florida.

Should Publix administer two doses to 250,000 Floridians it could collect more than $11.3 million.

Brous did not respond to follow-up questions about exactly how much new revenue immunizing seniors from COVID-19 has generated for Publix and about its political campaign giving to DeSantis and the Republican party.

No-bid deals

The Florida-Publix vaccine partnership is the latest no-bid, coronavirus-related deal by DeSantis that raises concerns about the governor’s office and state agencies creating a perception that major Republican campaign givers will get showered with lucrative state contracts without facing any competition. In December, Florida Bulldog reported how the DeSantis administration doled out more than $4 million in no-bid contracts to a New York City-based social media start-up co-founded by the son of a South Florida billionaire supporter of former President Donald Trump.

DeSantis is one of Trump’s closest gubernatorial allies and is among prominent Republican elected officials who have not debunked the ex-commander-in-chief’s lies that he lost the 2020 presidential election due to widespread systematic voter fraud. Recently, Publix came under fire after the Wall Street Journal reported that Julie Fancelli, daughter of company founder George W. Jenkins, donated $300,000 of the $500,000 raised for Trump’s Jan. 6 Washington D.C. rally that preceded the insurrectionist riots at the Capitol.

Julie Fanicelli

In the case of Publix, there is no official state contract with the grocer, according to Florida’s online contract tracking database. The governor’s communications office did not respond to multiple email requests for comment from Florida Bulldog about the genesis of the partnership with Publix.

“There is concern surrounding the lack of transparency with no-bid contracts made during the pandemic,” Orlando Democratic State Rep. Anna Eskamani told Florida Bulldog. “And there is a lot of concern about the political relationship between Publix and Republican leaders, specifically the governor, who intentionally granted access to one company over others. It raises eyebrows.”

The Republican Party of Florida received a $12,500 check from Publix on Dec. 9. The company donated a total of $100,000 to Friends of Ron DeSantis, in December. That brought the total Publix has contributed to the governor’s political action committee for this election cycle to $150,000.

Five days after the grocery chain’s latest gift, DeSantis announced a new pilot program that entailed giving Publix 15,000 doses to distribute at 22 pharmacy locations in Citrus, Hernando and Marion counties. A week later the governor said he was expanding the partnership with another 100 stores getting doses.

In previous news reports, Publix officials and DeSantis have dismissed claims of a quid pro quo. Brous, the Publix spokeswoman, told Jacksonville public radio station WJCT that any inference between the campaign contributions and the partnership is “absolutely incorrect.” A DeSantis spokesperson said any insinuations that DeSantis partnered with Publix because of political favoritism are “baseless and ridiculous,” according to WJCT.

Moskowitz: Publix ready, others weren’t

On Jan. 28, Florida Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz defended the state’s Publix partnership in front of the Florida Senate Select Committee on Pandemic Preparedness and Response. Moskowitz claimed the federal government had delayed a vaccine distribution program that would have involved other major grocery and pharmacy chains.

The state wanted to get the ball rolling, but only Publix was up to the task, Moskowitz said. “While I am not going to engage in everyone’s favorite theory, Publix was chosen because they were ready,” he said. “The other big box pharmacies were not ready. CVS and Walgreens had their hands full with the long-term-care contract [to provide vaccines to workers and seniors in nursing homes].”

Because Florida needed to ramp up vaccine distribution in rural and poor counties, the state had to turn to a private sector company like Publix to provide vaccination sites, Moskowitz explained. “If we got more vaccines, we could turn on all the Publixes, Walmarts and CVSes in the state to make sure a larger demographic is served than where Publix [pharmacies] are located.”

Publix no longer has sole control over Florida’s market for senior citizen vaccines. Last week, DeSantis announced Walmart, Sam’s Club and Winn-Dixie will also provide vaccine shots through the federal retail pharmacy program. Still, Publix has a significant advantage. The first allotment under the new plan entailed 65,300 doses spread among 593 Publix locations, 119 Walmart and Sam’s Club stores and 43 Winn-Dixie pharmacies.

Orlando state legislator Eskamani pointed out that Publix got a huge head start in generating new revenue from giving vaccine shots, as well as drawing shoppers into the grocery chain’s stores that otherwise might have avoided them amid the pandemic.

“A lot of Floridians are still not comfortable going into a grocery store,” Eskamani said. “They want to get the vaccine in an environment managed by the state of Florida with all the requisite safety standards … Due to its political relationships, Publix gets what Publix wants.”

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Latest comments

  • Thanks for proving the uncomfortable truth about your leftist agenda paper , that IF Gov.Ron DeSantis was a Media protected Democrat party clown, like the very confused former vice president Joe biden, this article would NEVER have been written period! Do you expose the millions in Florida Democrat politicians corruption and DON’T lie and say you have. I didn’t think so. This is yellow journalism.
    You know it and the people of Florida not brainwashed, by YOUR censored news know it. Your readers buying this as news , are sheep just like you.
    I am embarrassed for you and the other left wing activists , masquerading as journalists . News for the SHEEP ! Cross the Party Line and you be censored and banned! Truth hurts .

  • I don’t care how they got. I am 76 years old & have 1 lung. I have waited 5 weeks for Polk County Health Department to call me back for an appointment & in 1 day I made an appointment with Publix & 2 days later I got my first shot! In & out of the store In 15 minutes. They know how to provide excellent service. Thank you Publix Supermarket Management.

  • The loonies are out in Florida, “boycotting” the premier grocery chain, Publix, because the daughter of “Mr. George” Jenkins donated about $2.5 million to the Trump presidential campaign. More specifically, Julia (Julie) Jenkins Fancelli was asked to donate $300,000 for Trump’s final rally, which gave the extreme-right fanatics the chance for a clandestine and well-planned “insurrection” to break into the nation’s Capitol Building.

    Let me let the Florida chapter of The Legion of the Miserable in on an obvious secret. Publix could care less. The lot of you are small potatoes, nothing, not even a blip on any radar screen or heart monitor. Tragically, five years from now, or even 10, you will still be whiny, empty, and shallow because your acid will eat its way through your container.

    Until you learn to live and let live, to love your neighbor as yourself, to build rather than destroy, every family on your block is eager to see the ‘For Sale’ sign in your yard.
    Oh, right now the Publix officials are up for an Emmy for the way they twist their hands for the out-of-kilter media, appear grim and pensive for the photo shoot, and issue a purposely vanilla statement but – believe this – in their hand they hold four aces. Publix is no more worried about ignorant loud-mouthed liberals than those in West Palm Beach fret over frostbite. Or, more easily understood, the opinions of sheep mean nothing to the wolf. Let’s study the Publix “hold cards”:

    THE ACE OF DIAMONDS – Publix is roundly regarded as the best grocery store chain in all the United States. Headquartered in very lucky Lakeland, Fla., Publix operates over 1,200 stores throughout the Southeastern United States, with locations in Florida (813), Georgia (189), Alabama (78), South Carolina (64), Tennessee (46), North Carolina (46), and Virginia (16). They employ just shy of 200,000 very happy people and just so you’ll know, those same people represent the largest employee-owned company in America. The company’s 2017 sales totaled $34.6 billion (with a ‘b’), with profits of $2.3 billion (with a ‘b’). Believe it or not, they are the 13th largest retailer in the country and rank No. 38th on the Forbes list of “Best Places to work in America.” Publix continues to be the top-ranked company in America in the Food and Drug sector and, if you think your chippy boycott means anything other than the sensationalist news cameras, I am sorry to inform you that your shelf life will already be expired.

    THE ACE OF CLUBS – Just over four weeks ago, I got an opening for the COVID vaccine at the Publix in Fort Oglethorpe. There was no wait, no line, no hassle. “I live in Tennessee,” I said. “No matter, we’ll inoculate anyone we can.” It was an absolute pleasure but bigger was the fact everyone who works in the store is akin to an ambassador. “Can I help you find anything?” and “We insist we take your groceries to your car.” George Jenkins was exactly right when he arranged for the employees to buy the store: “If they own it they’ll work twice as hard to make it perfect and the quarterly profit-sharing check is a big deal. Today there are pharmacies in 95 percent of Publix’s stores. So, answer me this: What do these antibiotic prescription drugs have in common: Amoxicillin, Ampicillin, Penicillin VK, Sulfamethoxazole-trimethoprim (SMZ-TMP)? At Publix, with a doctor’s written prescription, a two-week supply is free. How about Metformin for Type II Diabetes (the generic of Glucophage)? It’s free. So is two weeks’ worth of Lisinopril, an ACE inhibitor for blood pressure. Amlodipine, a calcium channel blocker used to treat high blood pressure. You bet. If you are walking past the bakery counter and spy a cookie you might like? Just ask, it’s free. The Presto! ATM is installed outside the store and, when I received my second dose of the vaccine, I failed to get a prompt for the $3 dollar service fee. I told the assistant manager, but he shook his head. “No sir, at Publix there is no additional fee.” Oh, mercy.

    THE ACE OF HEARTS – Publix, a regional grocery store chain, mind you, is No. 3 on the United Way’s global donations list. For years they have been a “national” sponsor of the Special Olympics, March of Dimes, Children’s Miracle Network, United Way, and YMCA. When the COVID pandemic hit America’s dairy farmers, and the closing of school was causing milk and produce to be poured out or left to rot, Publix blew a shrill whistle and proclaimed, “We’ll buy all you’ve got.” The catch was the Publix suppliers are so loyal the company couldn’t undercut them, so immediately they provided – no, no … I miswrote — they DONATED the fruit, fresh vegetables, and dairy products to “Feeding America.” How many in The Legion of the Miserable have done that? Any liberals you know can match that? And, oh yes, try this: In Polk County, Fla., where the Publix main office is located there is 20 percent poverty and a sharp increase of COVID-based unemployment. Not long ago, Publix opened about 20 food centers in the county where over 500 of the neediest families are given a complete two-week supply of groceries every month. The idea is that if you feed ‘em every day they will have no incentive to try to better themselves. That’s 1,000 trips to the grocery store every month for entire families. How many sheep have done that?

    THE ACE OF SPADES – “Mr. George” Jenkins, the most beloved philanthropist the State of Florida has ever known, was asked just before he died at age 88 in 1996, “Sir, how much would you be worth had you not given millions upon millions to charities and just causes?” He never blinked before his two-word answer continues to thrill every generation who hears it: “Probably nothing.” George and his wife, Anne, had seven children. Today each of those children is a billionaire, or close to it, and the youngest is Julie. None of them are connected to the grocery chain, other than holding substantial stock. It is no one’s business what any of us do with our personal worth but I can give my blood oath that if Julie had the slightest hint the Trump rally would unfold as it did, she would have had nothing to do with it. The Florida Legion of the Miserable can’t touch Julie so they instead decided to play “Kick the Can’ with Publix, who had nothing whatsoever to do with the Trump rally. but was the only target the cowards could find. You are right, it makes no sense at all, but cowards don’t either. Today Julie is the president of the George Jenkins Foundation, which helps either totally sponsor or greatly helps “somewhere around 10,000” organizations. The foundation is always on “ready alert;” when the pandemic hurricane hit, she immediately sent $270,000 to provide superior day care for the children of First Responders, fire and police, and RNs and LPNs. Yes, she’s the “keeper of the trust” and, as the liberal nobodies try in vain to get her attention, she spends her time and effort to better such needs as abuse prevention, Christianity, diseases and conditions, education, elementary and secondary education, higher education, human services, mental health care, museums, out-patient medical care, rehabilitation, special population support, and projects of like need. While I cannot recall a Democratic effort that was boycotted ever on her scale, Julie Jenkins Fancelli has done more to help people than any one of her spineless detractors and that is the glaring truth. The other mystery is when, since the beginning of time, have conservatives ever boycotted a Democratic donor? Have you gotten a scent of these reprehensible scalawags yet?

    * * *

    BOTTOM LINE: The despicables are full of bluff and bravado right now, but I will bet my dollar against your dime that within no more than 60 days everyone who boycotts a Publix will be subject to having their picture taken in a Publix checkout line. The reasoning is simple. Publix is the best. They stand for more good causes, for more goodness, than anywhere else these leeches can find, and every one of them will slink back and why? Publix employees make them feel welcome. Winners, you know, have the ability to overlook the frailties of lesser people and the offal never seems to notice. Just you watch. 60 days.

    * * *

    Last year one of the most unfortunate incidents in Hamilton County history unfolded when the Regional Planning Commission, spurred on by Mayor Andy Berke’s highly bogus Urban Design Studio, forced Publix to endure 18 project renderings of a new store coming out of the ground on our South Broad Street. It was the most shameful abuse of power and nauseating bullying that I have ever witnessed. There is now the misconception all is forgotten and forgiven. Unfortunately, that is untrue. The three men and two women most responsible have been identified and are known. Heed the longtime Scottish belief: “The bones remember, and the blood never forgets.” Perhaps it is time for each of you to bid adieu from the public’s interests, and crawl back under your rock.

    [email protected]

  • Down on the farm, we called this “priming the pump.”

  • Publix p.r. writer aside, I will never shop there again. Financing the insurrection was the last straw for me.


  • It figures it on a comment line the deplorables would show up with their bad news whining about somebody else getting preference and all that nonsense. The truth is, Publix has done a horrible job administering the vaccines. Their website is always fully booked for appointments and you have to sit there and watch and watch and wait and strike immediately when a slot becomes available. Donating to the Republican assault on our democracy was the final straw for me as well.

  • Thanks for revealing that you are not really investigative journalists; you are propagandists. As soon as I read your line “ex-commander-in-chief’s lies” about the fraudulent election, I realized I wasn’t reading news, I was reading leftist opinion. You can disagree or argue the interpretation of what happened, but as soon as you flatly state your personal opinion as fact, you completely discredit yourself. You reveal that you are not a journalist, just a blathering mouthpiece of personal opinion.

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