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Most Ohio Lawmakers Getting COVID-19 Vaccine, A Few Decline

A nurse prepares a Moderna vaccination at a Columbus vaccine clinic.
Dan Konik
Ohio Public Radio
A nurse prepares a Moderna vaccination at a Columbus vaccine clinic.

Nearly all of Ohio’s Democratic lawmakers in the Ohio legislature have already received COVID-19 vaccines or plan to do so in the near future. Across the aisle, many Republican legislators have or are doing the same.

Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes (D-Akron) says she and the 34 other Democratic representatives are vaccinated or will get shots soon.

“It’s pretty much on brand and in line with what we have been saying for a very long time, that the science of vaccinations is to be trusted," Sykes said. "It can be trusted. And we have decided to lead by example and show our constituents and our communities that vaccination is a very good way to get us out of the coronavirus pandemic."

Of the 64 Republicans in the Ohio House, just 20 responded to a request to explain where they stood on the vaccines. Of those, only four said they wouldn’t get the vaccine or wouldn’t get it any time soon.

Among them was state Rep. Tom Brinkman (R-Mount Lookout).

“I currently have no intention to get one. I’m just kind of a wait-and-see," Brinkman says. “Because I’m typically not an early adapter on anything. I don’t go to the first-run movies. I don’t get the first computer. I just don’t do that stuff. The flu vaccine has been around, some would say 100 years, or at least 80 years, but I didn’t start getting it until about 10-12 years ago."

Other Republican lawmakers say they will wait until more data is available or until more Ohioans have had an opportunity to get it. State Rep. Jeff LaRe (R-Columbus) says he cannot get it yet because he just had COVID-19.

“I’ve got to wait 90 days because I just got out of quarantine from having coronavirus,” LaRe says.

Freshman state Rep. Ron Ferguson (R-Wintersville) says he’s not getting the shot after a consultation with his doctor.

“I was advised personally in my situation not to get the vaccine," Ferguson says. "It’s not because I’m against the vaccine or anything else. A lot in my family have and both of my grandmothers have. All for it. And this, along with any medical condition, it’s conditional."

Fellow state Rep. Tom Young (R-Washington Township) has also had COVID. But he sees the vaccine as a way to double his protection.

“You know, the science is behind the vaccine, so it doesn’t really bother me," Young says. "I don’t have some big conspiracy theory against vaccination and I trust science and doctors and I think it’s probably just a good practice to get it for my own personal health."

There are Republican House members who have already gotten the vaccine. State Rep Don Jones (R-Freeport) was among the first.

“I’m still an active EMT on my local volunteer emergency squad so I had the opportunity early, so I took advantage of it," Jones says.

Freshman state Rep. Sharon Ray (R-Wadsworth) says it was the right decision for her because, as a lawmaker, she’s around a lot of people. And she says it allows her to be around some people she misses.

“I want to hug and kiss my grandchildren again," Ray says.

State Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland) has had her vaccines too.

“I think we should be personally responsible for ourselves and this virus has certainly set us back as a nation, and as a state and as a local community," Schmidt says.

State Rep. Adam Holmes (R-Nashport) has a similar reason for getting the vaccines.

“I do believe in the process and I think it’s a great step towards optimism and and confidence in our economy and system by getting the vaccine," Holmes says.

New state Rep. Adam Bird (R-New Richmond) says he’s on the fence when it comes to vaccines.

“I’m definitely considering it and I would call the chance of me getting the vaccine pretty likely," Bird says.

Over on the Senate side, all of one of the eight Democratic Senators have gone on record saying they’ll get the vaccine. State Sen. Sandra Williams (D-Cleveland) says she hasn’t decided yet for no particular reason.

But there’s no hesitation where state Sen. Tina Maharath (D-Canal Winchester) is concerned. The 30-year-old has had her first dose of the vaccines.

“Despite my age and despite the fact that I’ve already had COVID twice, it’s people around me that I’m more concerned about," Maharath says.

Maharath says 50 of her family members have had the illness and some died.

State Sen. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) says she’s happy she has the option to get a vaccine and resume some sense of normalcy again.

“This is the light at the end of the tunnel so I’m thrilled," Fedor says.

On the Republican side, there’s a mix of opinions on the vaccine. State Sen. Kristina Roegner (R-Hudson) says, in a written statement, that she wants to see more data before making the decision. New state Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland) says he recently had an antibody treatment when he had COVID, so he is waiting on the advice of his doctor.

“You cannot have the vaccine for something around 90 days, we are told by the doctors," Cirino says.

But state Sen. Bob Hackett (R-London) says he chose to get the vaccine because he has co-morbidities that could make it difficult for him if he were to get COVID .

“You know, the numbers show you are much safer to be vaccinated than not to be vaccinated so for me, there’s no question but to get the vaccination," Hackett says.

Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City) is one of two Republican doctors in the Ohio Senate. Huffman says he’s already had his shots.

“Practicing medicine for 25 years, I’ve seen the good things that vaccines can do and so, you know, I believe in the science," Huffman says.

His fellow Republican, state Sen. Jay Hottinger (R-Newark), says he also believes in the science and got the vaccine as soon as he could.

“Of course, there are a kajillion conspiracy theories out there that I don’t adhere to," Hottinger says. "The only reservation I had was, is it going to be effective and will it do what it needed to do?"

Those conspiracy theories Hottinger mentions are running rampant in some circles. A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll shows Republican men and supporters of former President Donald Trump are leery of getting the vaccines.

State Rep. Tom Young (R-Washington Township) says he’s not buying the conspiracy theories either.

“You know, the science is behind the vaccine, so it doesn’t really bother me. I don’t have some big conspiracy theory against vaccination and I trust science and doctors, and I think it’s probably just a good practice to get it for my own personal health," Young says.

Ohio’s top Republican office holders say they are getting the vaccines. Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted got their shots before news cameras. And some of the state’s top leaders have also posted messages encouraging others to do the same.

State Sen. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) says he’ll get the vaccine because he thinks it's an important tool for preventing serious illness or death from COVID-19.

“I have historically gotten vaccines growing up and as an adult so if there’s a way to prevent it, I’m willing to do that," McColley says.

But one thing is clear: There’s no appetite among Ohio’s leaders for mandating the vaccine.

“I cannot never imagine that the state of Ohio will ever mandate a shot. We just are not going to do that,” says Republican state Rep. Tom Patton, who has been in the Ohio Legislature since 2003.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.