Florida revokes Orange County’s access to COVID-19 database after release of vaccine information

Distribution by zip code shows disparities in lower-income neighborhoods

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County health officials no longer have access to a critical statewide database that gives local decision-makers information including on COVID-19 vaccine distribution rates.

The move to revoke Orange County’s access to the Florida Department of Health database came after the county turned over three heat maps as part of a public records request.

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The maps show vaccine distribution rates by zip code and do not disclose any exempt or personal information. WFTV was the first to report the state pulling access to the database.

News 6 has been asking for similar public records from the Florida Department of Health since January. However, no records have been provided from the state. Officials at DOH have also ignored News 6′s requests for a status update on when reporters can expect the records.

Orange County vaccine distribution as of March 23, 2021 (WKMG 2021)

Under Florida’s Sunshine Law, officials are expected to provide public records in a reasonable amount of time. Records can be kept from the public if the information is considered exempt under state law.

News 6 reached out to state and county health officials to find out what information might be considered exempt in the heat maps that were provided, but have not received a response.

“The County is not pursuing any legal action,” said Orange County Public Information Officer Kelly Finkelstein, when asked if officials were considering pushing back on their revoked access to the database.

The maps are several weeks old and show lower-income neighborhoods including Pine Hills (32808 and 32804) have had fewer vaccines distributed than historically higher-income communities such as Winter Park (32789 and 32792).

Orange County vaccine distribution by zip code as of April 7 (WKMG 2021)

News 6 reached out to Mayor Jerry Demings for a comment about the discrepancies in vaccine distributions.

Orange County District Three Commissioner Mayra Uribe said Wednesday’s data drop was the first time she has seen the state’s zip code data.

“I want to know what communities haven’t been vaccinated,” Uribe said. “If the state knows who they vaccinated, they should share that with us so that so we can focus on the areas we are missing, where we are low.”

Uribe said that it’s important to know which zip codes have low vaccination rates because those areas likely need better vaccine messaging due to hesitancy.

“I think it’s time. We are past that surge that comes through. Now we need to get through the weeds of getting to individuals and making sure they have this opportunity,” Uribe said.

This is a developing story and will be updated throughout the day as we learn more. Follow News 6′s Merris Badcock on Twitter for up-to-the-minute information.

Orange County vaccine distribution as of March 14, 2021 (WKMG 2021)

About the Author:

Award-winning investigative reporter Merris Badcock joined the News 6 team in October 2020. Merris is the recipient of a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award, a Suncoast Regional Emmy Award, four Suncoast Emmy Regional nominations, and two first-place Florida Association of Broadcast Journalists’ Awards.