Jumping the gun?

Mayor Hagen Brody's announcement of mass vaccine clinic may be well intentioned, but it's premature

In recent days, Sarasota Mayor Hagen Brody announced the mass vaccination clinic he has envisioned for Sarasota that would put shots in the arms of 8,000 local residents over two days had received preliminary approval from the state.

“What we’re doing now is moving into the final stages of preparation,” Brody told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. “We want to make sure we have our supplies and everything ready to go.”

It all sounded so imminent you had to wonder if people were going to start camping out in parking lot of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, the planned site of the drive-through clinic, which would be apart from county vaccination efforts already underway in the area. .

There was just one problem: The state’s “approval” didn’t actually confirm if that amount of vaccine would be available or when it might be forthcoming. Todd Kerkering, emergency manager for the city estimated it would be “2 to 12 weeks” and Brody said “it could be next week or it could be a month from now.” But both estimates were purely conjecture.

In fact, according to emails Brody shared, Kevin Guthrie, deputy director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management merely instructed his all hazards incident management team planner, Taylor Cheney, to “work with Sarasota and make sure all of this is in a mission move.”

Whatever that means.

Brody’s interpretation was “that means we’re a go.” An alternate reading might be that the state wants to insure whatever the city is planning here is in line with its own “mission” and operations before proceeding.

Brody’s request — initially sent to the state on January 15 and followed by his urgent “update” on February 4, threatening to go to the federal government if the state was not responsive — was also assigned a “mission number.” Kerkering described that as similar to a UPS tracking number, which details the needs and particulars of a job. Unlike a UPS package, it didn’t contain an estimated date of delivery.

Obviously, anything that can increase the number of people vaccinated against this potentially deadly virus could only be considered a good thing. And Brody’s expressed intention to expedite protection of his constituents is certainly laudatory.

But you had to wonder if the mayor wasn’t jumping the gun with this announcement, at the risk of creating additional confusion and frustration over what has already been for many an aggravating and confounding vaccination roll out. No information was released about how this was all going to happen, who would be eligible, or whether the city would be coordinating with the county, which already has tens of thousands of residents on a waiting list for vaccinations. And while two Sarasota Memorial Hospital medical officials signed Brody’s request to the state, the hospital is not an official partner.

Brody said 170 volunteers (including 100 medical professionals) had already registered to assist, but that’s a far cry from an implementation plan. Coordinating, staffing and realizing such a massive event is not something the city has experience with. (Look how long it took the county Department of Health to get its own vaccination operations running relatively smoothly.)

There’s another thing I’ve wondered about too. To my knowledge, the idea for this clinic was instigated and pursued by Brody without discussion with or the official approval of his fellow commissioners. That appears to go against the city charter, which says that no staff member should execute actions or do work at the bidding of a single commissioner.

It’s no secret that Brody has been supportive of Sarasota reinstituting a strong mayor position and I imagine he’d like to see himself in that role some day. Nothing wrong with that aspiration. But I’d hate to think anyone might tap residents’ desperation to get vaccinated as a vehicle to advance their own political ambitions.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope Brody’s fellow commissioners fully support his proposal. I hope he’s able to get the state to deliver vaccine expeditiously. And I hope he can coordinate a smooth event with equitable access. despite numbers that dwarf even those of a city the size of Miami.

Most of all, I hope his efforts are coming from the heart, not the ego.