More than 2 million Ohioans say they probably or definitely won’t the get the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a recent Census experimental survey, but local health officials say they believe many minds can be changed through education and by hearing from trusted community members.
Black Ohioans are far more likely than white ones to say they do not expect to get vaccinated, the survey data show, and Black residents across the Dayton region and state are getting immunized at much lower rates than their white counterparts.
Skepticism about the vaccine should recede as doses become more widely available and Ohioans see trusted family members, friends, colleagues, neighbors and community leaders get vaccinated with little to no side effects, local health officials said.
“More and more people everyday are learning about its safety and efficacy and learning the science behind how it was developed,” said Dan Suffoletto, a spokesman with Public Health — Dayton & Montgomery County. “We anticipate that many people who may have been hesitant will eventually receive the vaccine.”
Ohio is home to about 8.8 million adults, the vast majority of whom plan to get vaccinated, according to data from the Census’ Phase 3 Household Pulse Survey.
However, about 2.1 million adult residents in the state who have not received the COVID-19 vaccine say they probably or definitely will not get the shots, according to data from the experimental survey, conducted mainly in late January.
About one-quarter of white adults in Ohio say they don’t expect to get the vaccine, and about one in 10 Asian residents say the same thing.
By comparison, about 40% of Black and 35% of Hispanic Ohioans say they are unlikely to get vaccinated.
Many residents say they are concerned about the vaccines’ side effects or they want to wait to see if the shots are safe, according to survey responses.
Others said they are not sure the vaccines will work. Smaller shares of residents said they do not trust the vaccines or the government or they plan to skip their shots because other people need them more.
Research suggests the vaccines are safe and produce only mild and temporary side effects, like pain at the injection site, fatigue and fever, said Suffoletto.
Fear of the unknown is common, but community members should become increasingly comfortable with getting shots as the vaccination rollout makes further progress and they see growing evidence that the preventative treatments are safe and effective, Suffoletto said.
Public health’s first vaccination was on Christmas Eve, so it is still very early in the process, he said.
More than 1 million white Ohioans, or nearly 11% of the state’s Caucasian population, have started receiving vaccines, according to data from the Ohio Department of Health.
About about 71,600 Black Ohioans have received at least their first dose of the vaccine, which is less than 5% of the statewide population.
In Montgomery County, about 11.6% of white residents have started vaccinations, compared to about 6.9% of Black community members.
Vaccination rates are higher for white people than Black residents in Butler, Champaign, Clark, Greene, Miami and Warren counties.
“It’s pretty clear there’s a racial disparity that exists across the state in terms of who has received the vaccine,” said Health Commissioner Jeffrey Cooper at a recent Dayton City Commission meeting.
To address long-standing inequities and racial disparities in health outcomes, Public Health — Dayton & Montgomery County will set aside and distribute 20% of its weekly shipments of vaccines to minority communities and minority community members, said Cooper.
Public health operates a fixed-site vaccination clinic at the Dayton Convention Center, but some people, including many minority community members, lack reliable access to transportation to be able to get to the downtown facility, he said.
Public health has been working with local leaders and clergy to host clinics at churches in minority neighborhoods, including St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Trotwood and St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church in northwest Dayton, Cooper said.
“This is our commitment as a health department to make sure that we get equitable vaccine distribution within the city of Dayton and Montgomery County,” he said.
Black residents historically have been more distrustful of vaccines and health care in general than other racial groups, which is rooted in racism in the health care system and some infamous events and experiences, like the Tuskegee experiment, Suffoletto said.
But public health is working with local religious leaders and other community partners to tell the story of the vaccine, and how it is safe and effective, in the hopes of winning over skeptics, he said.
Public health has put out a video series and continues to host community forums on Zoom and Facebook where they discuss the vaccine and its benefits, Suffoletto said.
“The more people who get it, the better off everyone will be,” he said.
There is a ton of disinformation on the web and social media that is likely shading attitudes about vaccines, said Lisa Henderson, vice president of health initiatives with the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association.
But education and transparency about how the vaccine was developed and how it works and what it can do hopefully will overcome some people’s hesitancy about getting their shots, she said.
“I think there’s this misconception that it was rapidly developed so it cannot be trusted,” she said. “We’re doing our best to give people all of the information so they can really understand what their options are, rather than just trusting what they’ve seen on Facebook.”
Henderson said she believes testimonials and stories shared by trusted community members will help convince doubters that it is important and safe to get vaccinated.
Ohio is still early in the vaccination process and doses remain scarce around the country, and it is too soon to know how many people will choose to be vaccinated, said Arundi Venkayya, the Ohio Department of Health’s chief of communications.
“Many have wanted to ‘wait and see’ how it goes for others who are receiving their vaccines, and are seeing millions of people across the country being successfully vaccinated,” she said. “As vaccine becomes more widely available, and education efforts continue, we hope that more and more Ohioans will see that COVID-19 vaccine are rigorously tested, safe, and effective, and make the choice to be vaccinated.”
Venkayya said the state health department is overseeing significant education and outreach efforts to help combat vaccine hesitancy.
The department is partnering with other groups and leaders to launch town hall events that focus on specific populations, including Black, Hispanic, Asian American and Pacific Islander residents.
Virtual events will be publicly broadcast between Feb. 22 to March 3 on social media and later on the Ohio Channel.