Miami Herald

Golden Beach at first restricted COVID shots to residents

The wealthy town of Golden Beach in Miami-Dade said that its COVID-19 vaccine doses were restricted to residents only, and that possibly goes against state policy.

- BY AARON LEIBOWITZ aleibowitz@miamiheral­d.com

Golden Beach, a tiny coastal town in northeast Miami-Dade County and one of the most affluent municipali­ties in South Florida, announced last week that it had obtained about 150 doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine from the state of Florida — and that they were for Golden Beach residents only.

“Participan­ts

MUST be live-in

Residents of Golden Beach and must present ID,” read a flyer about the Friday event at Town Hall. “Anyone found not RESIDING in Golden Beach will have their appointmen­t canceled.”

The town’s promotion of “residents only” shots came with the express permission of the state, Town Manager Alex

Diaz told the Miami Herald. But the town opened up access after the Herald began

asking questions. And on Friday, a spokesman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management disputed that the state authorized Golden Beach to make shots available only to its roughly 1,000 residents.

“All Florida residents who qualify per the [Food and Drug Administra­tion] are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at any location in Florida. All state sites, federal sites and county health department sites are open to any Floridian from any county,” said spokesman Jason Mahon. “The state did not authorize Golden Beach to restrict vaccine access.”

The dispute over whether Golden Beach was allowed to make its vaccines available only to residents of a community where the median household income is nearly four times that of Miami-Dade County comes as Gov. Ron DeSantis dismisses allegation­s that Florida’s vaccine rollout has benefited wealthy, exclusive enclaves.

According to Diaz, the town was allowed to limit who got their vaccines under a “closed point of distributi­on” (or “closed POD”) agreement executed in January with the Florida Department of Health. Closed POD agreements let an entity distribute vaccines to a specific population, rather than the general public.

Such arrangemen­ts have been utilized in Florida to limit vaccine events to certain vulnerable population­s, like teachers, police officers, or the residents of particular gated senior living communitie­s. But they generally have not been used by municipali­ties to distribute residenton­ly doses.

For instance, in January, when Miami Mayor Francis

Suarez pushed for his city’s vaccines to be limited to city residents, the response from Florida Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz was clear: “You can’t do that.”

So far, state officials have offered no indication that the policy has changed, said Frank Rollason, the director of emergency management for Miami-Dade County.

“We meet with the state all the time and they tell us you can’t do this,” he said.

Rollason, who learned about the Golden Beach vaccine event from a reporter Tuesday, said he contacted town officials and told them “you can’t do this.” In response, Diaz pointed to the agreement between the town and the Florida Department of Health.

THE AGREEMENT

Diaz told the Miami Herald the town’s closed POD agreement said it could give COVID vaccines to town employees, their families, and town residents. Mayor Glenn Singer went a step further, saying in an interview that “part of the stipulatio­n was it had to be for your residents only. They made it clear on that.”

But a copy of the agreement provided to the Herald doesn’t address residency. Instead, it says that, out of 450 vaccines the town was requesting at the time, an estimated 150 would go to “employees, contractor­s and essential personnel,” 150 would go to “employee family members,” and 150 would go to “patients and students.”

Diaz said he wasn’t sure what was meant by “patients and students” — there’s no hospital in Golden Beach — but he suggested it may have been a

“typo” and that it was “supposed to be residents.”

Golden Beach had been waiting for doses of the vaccine since Jan. 15, when it became one of the first municipali­ties in MiamiDade to reach an agreement with the state. This week, “after waiting months ... like everyone else,” Diaz said state officials notified the town that it would receive 150 to

200 one-shot Johnson & Johnson doses to distribute pursuant to the closed

POD agreement.

On Tuesday, Golden Beach residents began booking appointmen­ts through One Milo, a Miami-based company that is running the vaccine event. Singer said town officials checked the names and addresses people provided against the town’s tax roll to ensure that only Golden Beach residents were signing up.

The next day, after being contacted by the Herald, Diaz said that about 50 slots were still available and that the town would no longer be turning away non-residents. A subsequent email and revised flyer removed language about the residency requiremen­t, and Diaz said he called two Aventura residents Wednesday who had inquired about the event the day before and told them to sign up.

About 40 appointmen­ts remained open on the sign-up website Friday morning, hours before the event began.

“The Town’s vaccine registrati­on has been open to anyone who wishes to register, and will continue to do so until all slots have been taken,” Diaz said in an email Friday while the event was ongoing. “For a few hours on the first day of registrati­on the site was available for the population we identified in our closed pod agreement.”

Diaz said even with the reduced number of shots, demand for the event wasn’t as high as the town had expected.

“Our expectatio­n was we’d have demand from our own community,” he said. “The reality is, it seems like most of my community has already been vaccinated or is choosing not to.”

MILLIONS OF FLORIDIANS NOT YET VACCINATED

A lot has changed in Florida’s vaccine landscape since January, when vaccines were less prevalent and access to them was highly restricted. Now that every adult is eligible, the competitio­n at pop-up sites and pharmacies is far less fierce.

Still, as of Wednesday, about two-thirds of Florida’s

population had yet to receive a COVID vaccine shot, according to state data. And Gov. Ron DeSantis continues to fend off allegation­s that the wealthy and politicall­y connected have gotten a leg up in the race for protection from the deadly COVID virus, spending the week railing against a critical 60 Minutes report.

But with some municipali­ties getting approved to distribute vaccines after months of waiting — and millions of Floridians not yet vaccinated — the question of whether local officials can cut off outsiders from accessing their doses is only becoming more relevant.

John Pate, the city manager in Opa-locka — which is one of Miami-Dade’s poorest cities and had one of its lowest vaccinatio­n rates as of late January — said the city applied for a closed POD about a month ago and has yet to be approved. A state-sponsored walk-up site opened in the city in late March, providing about 200 shots a day to any eligible Floridian.

Limiting vaccines to Opa-locka residents “wasn’t even a thought of ours,” Pate said. “I wouldn’t believe they would allow us ... I don’t think we were trying to restrict vaccinatio­ns from anybody.”

This isn’t the first time a move by Golden Beach to restrict access to services has raised questions.

The town, which consists entirely of single-family homes and no commercial businesses, has long considered its public beach closed to non-residents. And a year ago, as COVID-19 spread through South Florida, the town temporaril­y banned visitors from entering and set up a checkpoint.

GOLDEN BEACH HAD BEEN WAITING FOR DOSES OF THE VACCINE SINCE JAN. 15, WHEN IT BECAME ONE OF THE FIRST MUNICIPALI­TIES IN MIAMI-DADE TO REACH AN AGREEMENT WITH THE STATE.

 ?? SAM NAVARRO Special to the Miami Herald ?? Natalie Todd, 29, reacts as she receives the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the Town of Golden Beach after the town received an allocation of 150 to 200 doses of from the state on Friday.
SAM NAVARRO Special to the Miami Herald Natalie Todd, 29, reacts as she receives the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the Town of Golden Beach after the town received an allocation of 150 to 200 doses of from the state on Friday.

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