Misinformation blamed for Igloolik’s COVID-19 spread
Mayor tries to halt pastor’s anti-vaccine broadcasts, while health minister denounces misinformation
As COVID-19 cases spike in Igloolik, one church pastor has been taking to the airwaves to warn people against getting vaccinated, according to the mayor who asked him to stop.
Meanwhile, Nunavut’s health minister compared the spread of vaccine misinformation to encouraging someone to go out in a boat without a life-jacket.
Pastor Peter Awa delivers his community radio broadcasts in Inuktitut. When he’s not on the air, he’s a hunter and a hamlet councillor — a leader in the community with one of the lowest vaccination rates in Nunavut. In Igloolik, 54 per cent of those eligible are fully vaccinated.
Nunatsiaq News was unable to reach Awa to talk about what he said on the radio about vaccines.
But Mayor Erasmus Ivvalu said he told Awa to stop.
“As soon as I heard him on the radio I went on the local radio to tell people to stop misinforming and he never went on the radio again about vaccines,” Ivvalu told Nunatsiaq News.
Igloolik has been under the strictest health restrictions in the territory since cases spiked there last month. Schools and non-essential businesses are closed and travel is restricted. As of Feb. 1, there are 94 active COVID-19 cases in Igloolik. With a population of roughly 2,000 people, that means about five per cent of Igloolik’s population has tested positive for the virus.
Ivvalu isn’t the only Nunavut leader wading into the fight against COVID-19 misinformation.
Health Minister John Main denounced the spread of vaccine misinformation in the territory during Tuesday’s COVID-19 news conference.
“When we have facts that are being provided, repeated and repeated, and there’s a lower uptake in certain communities, my feeling is that misinformation is a part of it,” he said.
“Unfortunately Igloolik appears to be an example of that, based on what I’ve heard from community members, and it’s just really sad.”
Main repeated comments he made on Jan. 25 when he warned against the “dangerous” spread of misinformation about vaccines on social media and community radio. He has not identified by name anyone who has spread misinformation.
When asked if Main was referring to Awa, Health Department spokesperson Chris Puglia said the Health Minister declined to “publicly shame” anybody in regards to this behaviour.
Instead, he focused on the vaccine itself, comparing it to a life-jacket.
“Who is out there telling people not to wear life-jackets when they go into a boat? That’s unfortunately what we have when people are saying, ‘Don’t take the vaccine,’” said Main.
“It’s a personal choice if you choose not to wear a life-jacket when you go into a boat, but then to be going around and telling other people, ‘Don’t wear a life-jacket,’ it’s really sad from where I sit.”
The Government of Nunavut is holding a vaccine clinic in Igloolik for those aged five to 11 on Feb. 16 and 17, at the community’s middle school and high school.
Appointments for the Moderna vaccine are ongoing, according to the Health Department. Anybody interested in getting vaccinated can call their local health centre to make an appointment.