Voices on the Vaccine: Clevelanders share their reasons for getting their shots

This is part one of the three-part series Voices on the Vaccine, a collaboration between The Cleveland Observer, and member of the Northeast Ohio Solutions Journalism Collaborative (NEOSoJo), and Cleveland Documenters, a network of residents trained and paid to document local government meetings.

Chris Bell was among the first groups of people to be fully vaccinated. Bell, 28, lives in a long-term-care facility and has health conditions that put him at high risk for complications from the virus.

"The vaccine will change my life and hopefully keep me alive longer if this pandemic does continue for more years,” he says.

The wider availability of coronavirus vaccines in recent weeks has many Clevelanders weighing whether or not to get the shots, which can protect against severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.

Cleveland Documenters interviewed more than 40 friends, family members, neighbors, and residents from across the city over the past several weeks to understand their views, which, in some cases were still evolving. What they learned offers a unique window into what influences this important decision for Clevelanders.

Quite a few residents who were interviewed jumped at the chance to take the vaccine, though some still worried about barriers that could be keeping fellow residents from having the same opportunity.

Even if Bell's own risks weren’t high, says he’d still want the vaccine "to protect my health and to protect other people's health,” Bell told Documenter Dan McLaughlin.

Isabel Merriman-Velez, 16, signed up for her vaccine in March through United Way’s 2-1-1 Helpline. She is one of more than 470,000 Cuyahoga County residents who, as of April 10, had at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine. Black and Latino residents were about half as likely to have gotten a dose as white residents.

“I was actually really surprised by how easy it was to schedule an appointment,” she told Documenter McKenzie Merriman.

At first, Velez said, her parents wanted her to “hold off” on the vaccine because of her age.

“I was a little like, ‘Oh, I should be able to have a say in this, I want to get it, it should be my choice.’ But I let them do their research.”

Her mother checked with her doctor and made sure it was safe for her to get because she lives with a blood clotting disorder, which Velez says means she “doesn’t scab easily.”

Velez also read a special fact sheet from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about vaccines and blood-clotting disorders.

In the end, her parents supported her decision. Her dad had to go with her to the Wolstein Center mass vaccination site because she is still a minor.

At the site, Velez described what she saw: “So many people, all kinds of people, young people, old people, men, women, all different races,” she says.

“They had language interpreters, which I thought was really cool, they had different languages like 10 or 12 interpreters standing by,” she continues. “It was definitely a little dystopic to walk in there, it was like the chairs in this big stadium and a bunch of Army people in their Army uniforms, so it did feel kind of out of a book or a sci-fi movie.”

The Ohio City resident says a lot of her friends are getting vaccinated, which is good because they are also socializing and going to games and parties.

One of her friends, who is 15, was feeling a little left out, Velez says. “All of your friends are posting their vaccine cards,” she says. “It’s a silly thing, but we’re still in high school, so if someone has something, you also want it.”

Kevin JohnsonKevin Johnson, 51, got vaccinated when he could.

Detroit-Shoreway resident Antonio Stacy Foushee says his wife, Hilary, spotted on Instagram an opportunity to schedule shots and jumped on it.

Foushee, 34, was impressed with the operation at the Wolstein Center. It gave him hope because it was the most organized operation he’d ever seen in Cleveland. “It feels like Cleveland is aware of the challenges it has and can rise to the challenge to act swiftly and do things well for its citizens,” he told Documenter Angie Pohlman. “Seems like the only hold back will be people’s hesitancy about getting the shot.”

Tracey Perzel couldn’t wait to get her coronavirus shot. In fact, the 63-year-old Kamm’s Corners resident signed up her four brothers, her sister and some of her elderly neighbors, too.

It’s hard for her to understand the logic of neighbors who are hesitant, she told Documenter Gennifer Harding-Gosnell.

It makes her think about her niece, who works in a hospital unit that treats COVID-19 patients. “I really do think that's what people need, they need to see what's going on," says Harding-Gosnell.

Read part two of Voices on the Vaccine.
Read part three of Voices on the Vaccine.