“We hit the brick wall”: Southwest Ohio battles vaccine hesitation in front of Biden City Hall

CNN will be hosting a City Hall with President Joe Biden on Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. ET in Cincinnati, Ohio, broadcast live on CNN, CNN International and CNN Español, streamed on CNN.com and CNNgo, and available on-demand to subscribers via cable is / satellite systems, CNNgo platforms and CNN mobile apps.

“Ultimately, people won’t listen to politicians or doctors,” said Cranley, a leader of First Ladies for Health, a local group fighting against vaccines.

“They don’t trust the politicians or the doctors,” added Lynch, who alongside Cranley is a volunteer for color and faith communities.

The frustration was evident in the president’s voice on Monday as he implored Americans to get vaccinated – to save the economy and their own health. He reached the six-month mark of his presidency on Tuesday and faced the harsh reality that his fight against Covid-19 is suddenly flooded with uncertainty.

“We know our economic recovery depends on getting the pandemic under control,” Biden said. “We have fundamentally changed the course of the pandemic so that all Americans are at risk of a disease that affects the unvaccinated people in the country the hardest. But we must not let up.”

Here in Ohio, where Biden will visit a CNN City Hall at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday, the state has fully vaccinated 45.9% of its population, just below the US rate of 48.6%. Hamilton County, home of Cincinnati, is slightly higher at 49%.

Cranley and Lynch share the sentiment the president expressed on Monday when he said, “The only way we can get out of it is if more Americans are vaccinated.” But even as the delta variant spreads, both women say that the diverse cross-section of unvaccinated people ignore or even hear the warning.

“He believes the stuff he sees on the internet”

Lynch, whose husband is a long-time pastor of the New Jerusalem Baptist Church, and Cranley, who is married to the mayor of Cincinnati, spent months educating people about the benefits of vaccination.

As first ladies of the church and the city, they focused their health-oriented public relations work against Covid more than a year ago and, more recently, on combating vaccination hesitation.

It’s a story of two Americas – the vaccinated and the unvaccinated – they see every day as rising cases set the country back in its battle against the pandemic.

“We hit the wall and are trying to figure out what we can do now to get people to get the vaccine,” Lynch said. “I have a grandson who doesn’t take the vaccine. We preached to him and preached to him and preached to him about it, but he doesn’t take the vaccine.”

When asked about her 32-year-old grandson’s reluctance, she said, “He believes the stuff he sees on the Internet.”

The long lines to crowded winter and spring vaccination centers have slowed down into the summer months, when much smaller clinics only see a handful of people looking for a vaccination on most days.

“We still run into people who want it, but it’s just a slow trickle,” said Julianne Nesbit, health commissioner for Clermont County, just outside of Cincinnati. “We didn’t turn the faucet on like we did at the beginning. It was literally like someone just turned the faucet off after it ran, ran, ran.”

Nesbit said interest in vaccines has weakened dramatically despite lotteries, celebrities, and other enticements. She said that the Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of the vaccinations will help alleviate concerns, at least for some people who have protested.

“I think most people have strong beliefs one way or another,” said Nesbit. “I don’t know if an incentive one way or another will get them to do it.”

“Much of it is the disinformation that’s out there”

The Delta variant has revealed a new divide in America – one that is ingrained in far more than politics.

Nesbit believes misinformation is the number one cause of hesitation and one of the hardest to combat.

“There is one group that you will never get vaccinated unless forced,” she said, perhaps with a requirement from an employer, college or school, or even a desire to go on an international trip or cruise. “There is another group that we really want to focus on right now that may have only a few concerns and we want to try to provide the best information possible.”

Bill Stearns, a lawyer in the conservative suburb of Batavia, Clermont County, received his Covid-19 vaccine shots in early spring but knows many people who haven’t – and will not.

“The main reason I hear is that it’s untested and they don’t want anything like that in their body that they don’t control,” said Stearns as he walked down Main Street at noon on Monday. “I think a lot of that is the disinformation that’s out there.”

Conversations with people in the suburbs of Cincinnati and the city reveal a variety of reasons for getting vaccinated. One man said he only did this because his employer asked him to. Another woman said she was anxious to “stop wearing a damn mask” and was shot dead in April.

Marquise Hughes, 23, said he would not get the vaccination – despite requests from his grandparents and the government.

“I just don’t feel safe,” said Hughes, who works as a machinist. “I have a feeling that the government is not open to everyone about what’s really in it.”

He said his skepticism about the government’s intentions only grew when Ohio offered vaccinated people a chance to win a million dollars in a lottery or when some employers offered an additional signing bonus.

“It’s like someone telling me to jump off the cliff and win a million dollars, you know?” said Hughes. “But will I be able to survive if I jump off this cliff?”

When asked who told him the vaccine was unsafe despite so much evidence to the contrary, he replied, “Myself, you know – just my research.”

It is these hardened attitudes that make the summer push for vaccinations difficult. The objections are not always rooted in politics, only in resistance to doing what the government demands.

“It’s going to be a very slow journey,” said Cranley, chairwoman of First Ladies for Health in Cincinnati.

“But we’re not going to stop,” added Lynch. “We will move forward and try to make as many advances as possible.”

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