CNN will hold a town hall with President Joe Biden at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday in Cincinnati, Ohio, that will air live on CNN, CNN International and CNN Español, stream on CNN.com and CNNgo and be available on demand to subscribers via cable/satellite systems, CNNgo platforms and CNN mobile apps.
“At the end of the day, people are not going to listen to politicians or the doctors,” said Cranley, a leader of First Ladies for Health, a local group fighting vaccine hesitancy.
“They don’t trust the politicians or the doctors,” added Lynch, who volunteers alongside Cranley in doing outreach to communities of color and faith.
The frustration was evident in the President’s voice on Monday as he implored Americans to get a vaccination — to save the economy and their own health. He hits the six-month mark of his presidency on Tuesday confronting the hard reality that his fight against Covid-19 is suddenly awash in uncertainty.
“We know that our economic recovery hinges on getting the pandemic under control,” Biden said. “We have fundamentally changed the course of the pandemic for one that threatens all Americans to a disease that has the most severe impacts on the unvaccinated people in the country. But we can’t let up.”
Here in Ohio, where Biden will visit for a CNN Town Hall at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday, the state has fully vaccinated 45.9% of its population, just below the US rate of 48.6%. Hamilton County, home to Cincinnati, is slightly higher at 49%.
Cranley and Lynch share the sentiment the President expressed on Monday, when he said: “The only way we put it behind us is if more Americans get vaccinated.” Yet even as the Delta variant spreads, both women say the diverse cross-section of unvaccinated people are not heeding — or even hearing — the warning.
‘He believes the stuff that he’s seeing on the internet’
Lynch, whose husband is the longtime pastor of New Jerusalem Baptist Church, and Cranley, who is married to the mayor of Cincinnati, have spent months trying to educate people about the benefits of getting vaccinated.
As First Ladies of the church and the city, they steered their health-focused outreach to Covid more than a year ago and more recently to fighting vaccine hesitancy.
It’s a tale of two Americas — the vaccinated and the unvaccinated — that they see every day as rising cases threaten to set the country back in its fight against the pandemic.
“We’ve come up against the brick wall and we’re trying to figure out what we can do now to induce people to get the vaccine,” Lynch said. “I have a grandson who is not taking the vaccine. We’ve preached to him and preached to him and preached to him about it, but he’s not taking the vaccine.”
Asked to explain the reluctance of her grandson, who is 32, she said: “He believes the stuff that he’s seeing on the internet.”
The long lines at crowded vaccination centers in the winter and spring have slowed during the summer months, where far smaller clinics only see a handful of people seeking shots most days.
“We are still running into people who want it, but it’s just a slow trickle,” said Julianne Nesbit, health commissioner of Clermont County, just outside Cincinnati. “We no longer have the tap turned on as we did at the beginning with things. It literally was like somebody just turned the faucet off, after it was running, running, running.”
Nesbit said interest in vaccines has dramatically leveled off, despite lotteries, celebrity endorsements and more enticements. She said full Food and Drug Administration approval of the vaccinations will help ease concerns among at least some people who have resisted.
“I think most people have strong beliefs one way or the other,” Nesbit said. “I don’t know that an incentive is going to push them one way or the other to be able to do it.”
‘A lot of it is the disinformation that’s out there’
The Delta variant has highlighted a new divide in America — rooted in far more than politics.
Nesbit believes misinformation is the biggest reason for the hesitancy and the hardest to fight against.
“There’s a group that you’re never going to get vaccinated, unless they are forced,” she said, perhaps with a requirement from an employer, a college or school or even the desire to take an international trip or a cruise. “There’s another group that we really want to focus on now that may just have some concerns and we want to try to give the best information that we can.”
Bill Stearns, a lawyer in the conservative suburb of Batavia in Clermont County, got his Covid-19 vaccine shots back in the early spring, but knows plenty of people who haven’t — and won’t.
“The primary reason I’m hearing is that it’s untested and they don’t want to have anything like that in their bodies that they don’t control,” Stearns said, walking down Main Street on Monday at lunchtime. “I think a lot of it is the disinformation that is out there.”
Conversations with people in the suburbs of Cincinnati and the city reveal a variety of reasons to get vaccinated. One man said he did so only because his employer required it. Another woman said she was eager to “stop wearing a damn mask” and got her shot in April.
Marquise Hughes, 23, said he would not get the vaccination — despite pleas from his grandparents and the government.
“I just don’t feel like it’s safe,” said Hughes, who works as a machinist. “I feel the government is not being upfront with everyone about what’s really in it.”
He said his skepticism about the government’s intentions only increased when Ohio offered the chance to win a million dollars in a lottery for those who got vaccinated or when some employers were offering an extra signing bonus.
“It’s just like someone telling me to jump off the cliff to win a million dollars, you know?” Hughes said. “But am I going to be able to survive when I jump off this cliff?”
When asked to cite who told him the vaccine wasn’t safe, despite so much evidence to the contrary, he replied: “Myself, you know — just my research.”
It’s those hardened views that are complicating the summer push for vaccinations. The objections are not always rooted in politics, but just a resistance to do what the government is asking.
“It’s going to be a very slow journey,” said Cranley, chair of First Ladies for Health in Cincinnati.
“But we’re not going to stop,” Lynch added. “We’re going to forge ahead and try to make as many inroads as we can.”