CVS has a heavy footprint in Miami-Dade’s Spanish-speaking neighborhoods, in a county that is nearing 70% Hispanic. That’s why the pandering was particularly sinister when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced last week, in the Hispanic-heavy city of Hialeah, that all CVS y más and the company’s Navarro pharmacies would start offering vaccinations. Noticeably absent were the remaining CVS stores in Black or more racially mixed neighborhoods. They were intentionally and egregiously left out of the vaccination initiative without explanation, as if nobody would notice.
Just two days later, DeSantis announced with great fanfare at Edwards Waters College – an HBCU in Jacksonville – that he’s partnering to open six new vaccination locations in the state to make 200 daily vaccine doses available per site in underserved communities, (meaning Black). Besides EWC, those are Florida A&M University, the Kissimmee City Chambers Park and Community Center, Broward College’s Coconut Creek Campus, a parking lot in Overtown at 1551 NW 1st Ave. and Father Gerard Jean-Juste Community Center at 690 NE 159th St. in Miami. The news release included dutiful quotes of gratitude from the presidents of both EWC and A&M as proof of the governor’s benevolence. It was stomach-churning.
Riches for the Hispanic community, crumbs for Black residents. Let’s keep in mind that the majority of Black voters are Democrats. The EWC news conference was timed less than 24 hours before the governor welcomed the nation’s conservative movement to Orlando at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
The flurry of vaccine news last week also brought announcements from Publix and Winn-Dixie. Publix, with a limited footprint in Black neighborhoods, announced that all 730 Florida Publix pharmacies will administer the vaccine, including 136 stores in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. It was a smart move considering the image problem created by Publix supermarket chain heiress and major Trump donor Julie Jenkins Fancelli, who contributed nearly $300,000 to the Trump rally that preceded the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6. You can call her the mother of the coup attempt.
Winn-Dixie, with a bigger presence in Black neighborhoods than Publix, has been struggling to make vaccines available at its locations. Of the 24 stores that were added to its efforts, the two announced in Miami-Dade are at 1150 NW 54th St. in Liberty City and 1155 NW 11th St. in Miami, west of Liberty City and just south of Jackson Memorial Hospital. No sites were added in Hispanic neighborhoods.
Now let’s backtrack to CVS for a moment.
In 2014 the company purchased Navarro Discount Pharmacy, the largest Hispanic and family-owned drugstore chain in the country, with 33 locations. The trusted Hispanic brand had been around for 50 years before its acquisition. The largest Black-owned drugstore chain, Barthwell Drugs, opened in 1933 and grew to 13 stores around Detroit before its last location closed in 1987. CVS y más, which literally means “CVS and more,” is little more than a cosmetic marketing gimmick launched in 2015 designed to make Hispanic customers feel more welcomed and distinguish CVS from its equally homogenized competitor, Walgreens. The y más locations typically contain an aisle with extended product selections offered in greater abundance at Navarro, such as religious candles and violet water cologne popular with a Cuban clientele. They also boast bilingual signage and employees, neither of which are unique in Miami-Dade.
I don’t begrudge CVS from developing a smart marketing strategy to make their brand feel more inviting to large Latino markets in Miami and elsewhere, even if it is just smoke and mirrors. It’s good business. What’s morally wrong is excluding pharmacies outside of Latino-dominated zones from a vaccination effort during a pandemic when lives are at stake. I guess those “other” areas aren’t Republican enough for DeSantis or CVS.
But I have news for the governor. We all bleed red, die the same and meet the same maker. Money is green in everybody’s hands, regardless of skin color, and we all have a choice of where to spend it.
Emily Cardenas is the executive editor of The Miami Times. She previously worked as a producer at WTXF in Philadelphia and at WSCV, WFOR and WPLG in Miami.