Vaccine Skepticism Leads Many Cuyahoga County Residents To Opt Out

Cuyahoga County Health Commissioner Terry Allan, Dr. Sherrie Williams, Dr. Greg Hall, and Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish answer questions during a Friday press conference. [Cuyahoga County]
Cuyahoga County Health Commissioner Terry Allan, Dr. Sherrie Williams, Dr. Greg Hall, and Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish answer questions during a press conference, Jan. 8, 2021. [Cuyahoga County]

Although the COVID-19 vaccine is now available to groups like frontline health care workers and residents and staff in congregate living facilities, some people are turning it down.

“Though it’s very early in the process, we’re already seeing way too many people saying no thank you,” said Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish at a news briefing Friday.

“We’re seeing in some cases as many as 70 or 80 percent of people who are offered the vaccine saying they don’t want it,” Budish said.“If we’re going to get back to normal, we need most people to get the vaccine, not reject it."

 A lot of the skepticism around the vaccine is coming from the Black community, due to a history of racism within the medical community and experiments that targeted people of color, said Dr. Sherrie Williams, pulmonary critical care specialist at MetroHealth.

The dangers of the virus, however, far outweigh anything else, Williams said.

“We know that more of us as African-Americans — Black people — are dying at a disproportionate rate from this disease. Here’s an opportunity for us to have effective prevention,” Williams said.

 "If you can get vaccinated, if it’s offered to you, please do," she said.

According to data from state officials, 248,600 Ohioans have been vaccinated as of Friday. Of that group 167,871 are white and 11,402 are Black or African American. However, 53,178 people are listed as race unknown.

Cuyahoga County does not collect demographic information when the vaccine is administered, said Kevin Brennan spokesman.

Williams has already received the first dose of the vaccine. Afterward, she experienced minimal side effects and was back to work the next day, she said.

Williams is commonly asked about long-term side effects of the vaccine.

While researchers don’t know yet what the long-term side effects of the vaccine will be, the long-term side effects of contracting COVID-19 are becoming known and they are not good, she said. 

“Many people are still short of breath. Many people are still experiencing fatigue, are still experiencing trouble with smelling, with tasting,” Williams said.

Dr. Greg Hall, president of the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, is currently experiencing some of those long-term side effects from the coronavirus. He became sick nearly two months ago, on November 18, 2020, and is still not back to normal.

“When people say they don’t want the vaccine, and here I am two months later, wondering, 'Will I ever really get my breath back? Will I ever get to a point where I can run with my kids or run up the stairs without being real short of breath when I get to the top of the stairs?''” Dr. Hall said.

Hall has missed parts of his life that he will never get back due to COVID-19, and he wants others to avoid it if possible, he said.

As Cuyahoga County continues to roll out the vaccine to different groups, older adults will be next to be eligible to receive the vaccine, said Terry Allan, county Health Commissioner.

“There are 230,000 people over age 65 in our county,” he said. “So this is a very large group," Allan said.

The county will soon provide more details on how older Ohioans and people with severe medical conditions can get the vaccine, he said.

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