‘We have a right to live’: COVID-19 vaccine town hall addresses Ohio’s Black population

40% of Black Ohioans say they’re not likely to get vaccinated
Published: Feb. 22, 2021 at 10:47 PM EST
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - The Ohio Department of Health hosted a virtual town hall Monday night aimed at addressing myths and questions about the COVID-19 vaccines to make the state’s Black population feel more comfortable about getting shots.

“It’s about protecting the people who we love the most,” said Eddie Koen, the CEO of Urban League of Southwestern Ohio. He lost his uncle to COVID. His aunt died around the same time. “Our community has been hit the hardest. We have a right to live.”

Nearly 1.5 million Ohioans have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine.

But according to new data from a U.S. Census Bureau experimental survey, about 2.1 million adults in the state say they probably or definitely won’t get the shots, including 40 percent of Black Ohioans who say they don’t expect to get vaccinated.

The reasons most people say are keeping them from getting vaccinated include possible side effects, mistrust in the government, and a lack of confidence in the shots.

“It’s about trusting the science and trusting the facts,” said Jerry Ravish, a pastor at Unity Temple Church of God in Christ in Columbus.

He spoke about how the faith community needs to get involved to encourage more people to get shots and help them get access to doses.

Fourteen percent of the state’s population is Black, yet they account for only five percent of Ohioans who have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, according to state data.

Dr. Sophia Tolliver, a family medicine physician based in Columbus, stressed the importance of communicating and going directly to people in the Black community to hear their concerns and answer their questions.

“Black people have every right to be hesitant about new medical therapies,” Tolliver said. “But let’s normalize asking those questions. Let’s normalize fact-finding. Let’s normalize talking to your trusted professional -- your doctor, your primary care provider -- about those hard questions so we can relay to you what we found out about the vaccination in our research. ... We want you, at the end of the day, to base your decision for your friends, your family, yourself, on facts and not fear.”

Koen said spreading information on the ground is going to be one of the most effective tools to vaccinate more people in the Black community. He said he is encouraged by the progress he has seen in recent months to bridge the trust gap, but said there’s still more work ahead.

“I think if we strategically use those who have agency and trust, we will see an adoption of people getting a vaccine faster,” Koen said.

Three more town halls are scheduled in the coming weeks targeted at different communities in Ohio. You can watch them online at or on the Ohio Department of Health’s Facebook and YouTube pages.

  • Tuesday, Feb. 23, 6:30 p.m. – Hispanic/Latino Ohioans
  • Monday, March 1, 6:30 p.m. – Asian American and Pacific Islander Ohioans
  • Tuesday, March 2, 6:30 p.m. – Rural Ohioans

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