Misinformation blamed for Igloolik’s COVID-19 spread

Mayor tries to halt pastor’s anti-vaccine broadcasts, while health minister denounces misinformation

By Madalyn Howitt

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.

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(52) Comments:

  1. Posted by They’re #2 on

    According to the GN Health Dep’t, the only community with a vaccination rate lower than that of Igloolik is…(drumroll please)… “The #1 Spot goes to… Kugaaruk!”

    Begs me to wonder what type of nonsense is being spewed on the airwaves of the Ol’ Pelly Bay radio station.

    • Posted by B Aglukark on

      Fair enough, if we are comparing numbers of positive cases to a percentage of those vaccinated/unvaccinated…and attributing the high positive rates in Igloolik because residents have the lowest vaccination rates. Explain Iqauit’s double vaccinated at almost 90%, with the second highest positive cases in the territory. And, Kuurauk, lowest vaccination rates, but zero covid.

      • Posted by B Aglukark on

        It is given, and we see this all over the world, regardless of vaccination status- if you have Covid -19, you will be a spreader. You can’t dance around that. And, if you live in a small community, tight quarters (stores, schools, public places), chances are much more so to easily spread it- especially for homes that are overwhelmed, overcrowded, and with a lifestyle where gathering is the norm. You cannot, should not hang this all on one individual who is on a radio. That is just wrong.

      • Posted by Math? on

        the answer is obvious Iqaluit has more people. Remember percentages in school?

  2. Posted by Freedom on

    Not just spreading miss information. How many children want to be vaccinated and their parent(s) are not allowing them.

    • Posted by Baffin on

      Ok First the Pastor should be fined in Igloolik before any one dies.
      Secondly Main is correct but these people spreading false information in Nunavut
      Need to be held accountable

      • Posted by Qik on

        this Inuk pastor giving one message compared to all the message from over two years can over shadow? perhaps he was ‘preaching’ more than the one time.

        i agree the pastor should have known better

  3. Posted by Pork Pie on

    Glad to see the poison in the well being addressed head on. Good work.

    This is a multifaceted problem though. The pastor genuinely believes what he is saying, in his mind he is not being deceptive, but helping.

    It could be said that susceptibility to these kinds of delusions is as much a problem as their being circulated in the first place.

    This is why education matters, and why learning to think well matters. We need to teach critical thinking and philosophy in our schools. This is the “vaccine” so to speak, against distorted thinking.

  4. Posted by Life Jacket? on

    He compared telling people not to get vaccinated to telling people “not to wear life jackets when they go into a boat.”

    Weird, since when does wearing life jackets have a risk of serious adverse medical side effects?

    • Posted by More like… on

      More like “when do people in Nunavut wear life jackets?”

      I can sit by the ocean all day and count the life jackets worn by boaters on 1 hand.

      • Posted by Float on

        I always wear a floater jacket while boating. It may not save my life, but at least they’ll find my body.
        Oh, and vaccinations save lives.

    • Posted by Rolling my eyes on

      It’s comments like these that drive me wild. Yes, like with any vaccine there is a small risk of a side effect. While most are very mild, a very small number of people have a serious side effect. A very quick google search shows this chance to be 0.005%, a fraction of a fraction of vaccinations. COVID-19 on the other hand KILLS 1-2% of people infected with it (depending on medical care available in the country, variant etc.), and that doesn’t include serious, long term COVID which we don’t fully understand. That means you are 200 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than you are to have a serious adverse reaction to a vaccine.

      People who bet on getting the virus over an extremely safe vaccine, do not understand probability, chance, or managing risk. You are putting your life, and the life of others at risk by not getting vaccinated.

      • Posted by Be honest at lest on

        I am on your side on this but I also think you’ve inflated your numbers by saying “COVID-19 on the other hand KILLS 1-2%”

        Serious question, what % of Nunavummiut who have contracted Covid have died from it? Way less than 1 to 2%

        By pulling numbers out of thin air like this, you discredit your argument.

        • Posted by Rolling my eyes on

          It’s fairly well established that among the unvaccinated the death rate is between 1-2% (nationally, not territorially). This is dependent on age, co-morbidities and a number of other factors (including variant, vaccination status etc.) that are hard to get into in a one paragraph response on a news article. A quick google search of case fatality rate should show you the data you’re looking for.

          This is to say nothing of all of the other known symptoms of COVID-19, which are far more serious that most of the minor side effects you could experience from getting the vaccine.

          Vaccines are safe, effective and well tested. Not getting vaccinated is a gamble and not a smart one considering the numbers at play.

          • Posted by Be Honest at Least on

            Instead of telling everyone “It’s fairly well established that among the unvaccinated the death rate is between 1-2% ” … show us the stats?

            Here is something interesting I found. This is all from the Government of Nunavut webpage. To date we have had 1820 cases and 5 deaths. That calculates to about .27% – or rounded up 3/10 of 1%

            Also interesting to note, that rate is lower in the current wave, where so far there has been 1 death out of 684 recovered – so about .14% – a little higher than 1/10 of 1%

            That is not even close to 1 to 2%


            • Posted by Rolling my eyes on

              It’s problematic to look at Nunavut specific data, and recent data, when discussing the virus as a whole. Vaccine uptake, newer treatments now available and a younger population all influence how deadly a virus is. There are fewer deaths because of efforts to vaccinate and because of all of the responsible people doing their part to get vaccinated. The fight isn’t over, and if we want to ever go back to a normal state of living that doesn’t put vulnerable populations at risk, we need to continue to encourage people to get vaccinated and boosted.

              • Posted by Be honest at least on

                Look, I’m not arguing with you about vaccines, I’ve had 3 shots and agree that people.should get their shots.

                My point is that making up statistics is “problematic” because it makes us appear dishonest and thus diminishes our case.

            • Posted by Not all the information. on

              Except: the death toll is only counted if COVID was caught in territory. So more have died, but outside the territory so are counted in that provinces numbers instead.
              Don’t get too caught up in the weeds. 1-2% has been the number. Likely to drop with more omicron and less delta. Even 3/10. Not worth the risk to me!!

              • Posted by Offensively Moderate on

                And what does that have to do with anything? You’re the one making the claim, explain how this supports your argument.

                Most Nunavutmiut live in Nunavut, and spend most of their time in Nunavut. Who doesn’t? Students, a dozen or so elders, people who own shell companies… I don’t see anything that could be biasing this to the extent you are insinuating.

                True, we are usually medivaced if we get really sick, but if someone catches Covid in Nunavut, is medivaced south, then succumbs to the illness, that will still count as a Nunavut death.

            • Posted by Offensively Moderate on

              “Case Fatality Rate” may not be the most helpful number for this kind of discussion. Fatalities are almost certain to be recorded as such. Cases are totally dependent on the medical system actually documenting a case. With mild cases (e.g. children) many cases are not documented. Cases are a very poor proxy for the actual prevalence, which can be estimated but is hard to establish with much certainty.

              The unvaccinated are also not a random sample of the population. If you are young and healthy, there is no way you are looking at a 1-2% chance of dying, although it’s not zero either.

              These numbers matter. Don’t throw numbers around to frighten people.

        • Posted by Northern Guy on

          ” Rolling my eyes” is correct the global mortality rate from Covid is 1-2%, however this number is very much dependent on access to adequate health care. Mortality rates in developing countries are generally much higher than 1-2% while in developed countries the mortality rate is somewhat lower than 1-2%

          • Posted by Offensively Moderate on

            Health care helps people survive, sure, and this may explain some of the different outcomes by country. But see my comment above about Case Fatality Rate above.

            If your case counts are only catching the tip of the iceberg, the CFR is not giving you a meaningful mortality rate. You need to look at seroprevalence to estimate how many people actually got the virus but weren’t recorded by the public health establishment and then calculate a rate based on that.

            We have an illustration of this problem with those Nunavut communities which are publishing different case counts from the CPHO ones. And even those are probably incomplete.

      • Posted by Inullarik on

        Vaccination is to reduce illness to yourself only, not protecting others. Still can get covid even if your fully vaccinated. Stop giving out misinformation!

        • Posted by Rolling my eyes on

          Vaccines absolutely do protect more than just yourself. It does this in two ways:

          1. People who are vaccinated are less likely to pass along the virus if they do get sick; and
          2. Vaccines will prevent you from getting sick. If you’re not sick, you can’t pass it along to other community members.

          The less sick people in a community, the fewer points of transmission to other people. Unvaccinated people create extra sources of transmission and are much more virulent once they get sick.

          The kindest thing you can do for your neighbours, elders and family is to get vaccinated to keep them safe.

          • Posted by iThink on

            Not one single data point to support your claim that Coronavirus fatality rate is 1 – 2 % .. just authoritative claims we are all excepted to accept.

            Paradoxically, people pretending to have this special knowledge who refuse any responsibility for evidence are really no different than a preacher spreading fantasies behind a pulpit.

    • Posted by Chachacha on

      Lots of important, life-saving things have serious side effects. Seatbelts in cars, are one example. Side effects of wearing seatbelts include:

      Bruised or fractured ribs.
      Sternum and chest injuries.
      Neck injury due to whiplash.
      Torn shoulder muscles and tendons.
      Head contusions from impact on the steering wheel or.
      Injury to the soft tissue in the abdomen.
      Intestinal injury.

      There is even a group of people who feel seatbelts are death traps and cause more harm than good. But it is the law that they must be worn in a car because they ultimately save more lives than they harm. Are you going to protest those too?

  5. Posted by S on

    This non-science and attempts at censorship by the media, politicians and bureaucrats needs to be stopped

    • Posted by iRoll on

      Yet here you are, day in and day out, spreading your distorted reality while gaslighting us all with persecution fantasies about “censorship.” All done with total impunity and careless disregard of what we can plainly see.

      Give us a break, S.

    • Posted by Rolling my eyes on

      If you’re being censored why are you able to post here?

  6. Posted by Scary thoughts on

    It’s scary to think that this pastor is also an elected official

  7. Posted by Ponderer on

    Misinformed is this whole scenario from the beginning. 2 years running. The bill is tabled on Wednesday weather or not people and companies can speak online against government agenda, This dude’s expression says it all

  8. Posted by Following flocks on

    It’s interesting how church leader’s are still manipulating followers in the north today. We’ll, not just the north, but everywhere. We have all this misery exposed about religious leadership and residential school abuse, and here we are living a reality of hearing a ridiculous preaching about telling people to put their life in danger, and as worse, people actually going along with it. I’m telling you mr health minister you got some teaching and pleading to do, to get through a population like that, but thanks for the humanity, caring and compassion that’s characteristic of your efforts. Hope the preacher can learn just a little of it.

  9. Posted by then inform yourself on

    Here you go, start with this.
    “The vaccines have been an incredible success story,” said Dr. Prabhat Jha, an epidemiology professor at the University of Toronto. “When people are vaccinated, the rates of hospitalizations and deaths are far, far lower.”
    Dr. David Jacobs, a radiologist at Toronto’s Humber River Regional Hospital, said most of the people at his centre who wind up on a breathing machine – a last-ditch treatment that can leave long-term side-effects even for patients who survive it – are unvaccinated.

    The vaccinated are more likely to just need high-flow oxygen, a relatively non-invasive therapy that usually sees patients go home sooner, said Jacobs, who routinely scans COVID patients.

  10. Posted by ‘Bout Time on

    Let’s hope this will protect the residents from the misinformation and bigotry the pastor spews out on local radio from here on out.

    The radio audience has been subjected to those lies for years.
    Community leaders and the community-at-large have enabled that pastor by not speaking out against the pastor’s bigotry.

    This is the first time for an official to call out the lies. Kudos to Mr. Mayor.

    Let’s hope this will not be the only time for the sake of the community’s health and well-being.

  11. Posted by Northern Inuit on

    Praise the Lord and pass the muktuk.

    okay, seriously, politics and religion should never be mixed. like mixing beer and tequila (from what I remember from high school) that’s just asking for trouble. you will wind up in the tank or the hospital. same goes with vaccine rhetoric and politico preachers. please, just don’t do it.

  12. Posted by Full of belief on

    Yes , So many people are believers. Being a believer says nothing about reality, other than the reality of the narrowed beliefs itself. Just because people believe, doesn’t make it true. Could say , it don’t make it untrue either, but science is fact. There’s still some that believe the world is flat. And that man didn’t go to the moon. That’s belief. Delusional people, religious worship, all beliefs. Science is science , facts. Vaccine is backed up with science, not belief. I urge people to go to the gym , or designated place to get vaccinated, not in a place of worship, listening to someone’s delusional preaching. Remember all the delusional preachers and preaching that make people take off their clothes and walk out on the ice, to be frozen to death. See Peter Sala trial, Belcher Islands, 1940s. If people forget to believe that kind of horrible history, then belief could therefore have been useful, if they’d believed what the truth really is.

    • Posted by Jonestown on

      Great post. And a good reminder that the line between a religion and a cult is a blurry one…

      • Posted by The Formula on

        Cult + time = religion

  13. Posted by Cold Water Shock on

    I love how John Main says that wearing a life jacket is a personal choice when it’s actually a federal law. I’d love to see the freedom convoy in Ottawa protesting the law about wearing life jackets in support of freedom of choice.

    • Posted by Get out of jail free on

      The thing about law and choice is so interesting. Choice is more powerful than any law. Laws are always broken because of choice, whether or not you had no choice to do so, judge could decide guilty or not, but even no choice to do so, requires choice to finally do so. The jails are full of law breakers, by choice.

  14. Posted by DUMBFOUNDED!! on

    There are pastors in our Ungava community where they tell people not to get the vaccination shot because the scientists place either the ebola virus and or aborted baby parts in the vaccination and this is probably why the percentage of Inuit in our community is extremely low. Placing fear into other Inuit by using ignorance as their tool to get their followers not to get the vaccination shots that could and probably does save lives. Religious pastors should not be permitted to announce over the local DF.M. Radio Station their Opinions and to keep their opinions in the church. STOP WITH THE FEAR GAME!!

  15. Posted by tukisiavitaa – do we understand? on

    50+ churchgoers often are less educated about the science of medicine but rely on doctors if they get sick. Many 50-70 yr olds did have some schooling but minimal. The rhetorics of the anti-vaxxers in the south have seeped into the churches of the north. There is no logic to their thinking. Meanwhile, any communication from Health is often written in Governmentese so whatever is being translated onto paper and reread is usually poorly conveyed. How many 40+ northeners know how the virus is spread? (the details that many of you online readers have read them) If you ask anyone out there, how it spreads, will not be able to explain. However, in saying all this, I have found my peers who are educated, freely visiting their relatives and friends without much thought for infecting or infecting others. There is such a lackadaisical attitude about social distancing and temporarily suspending close contact with others out of their households but also even picking up their relatives at the boarding home and visiting each other. On another note, I am fed up of the doorway stops at the Northmart and stores. They smoke incessantly and don’t give a hoot about sharing their air.

  16. Posted by Pope on

    Let’s buy this pastor a one-way ticket to visit the Pope.

  17. Posted by Name withheld on

    If the are not fully vaccinated don’t give them skidoos, skip the town

  18. Posted by Shannon on

    Not everyone in town go to his church, we’re Canadians, we have freedom of Choice.

  19. Posted by Manapik on

    There is nothing wrong with Churches and Governments, it’s the people who run them.

  20. Posted by delbert on

    Having the right to make personal choices by a sane adult. Is one the main tenants of a democracy. So allowing one’s self to be brainwashed and believing in something that go’es against main stream beliefs. No matter what the out come of that belief we must allow freedom of choice. Unless there are laws that disallow those choices.
    There for if you choose to be vaccinated or choose not be vaccinated you have that right. One choice may cause your own death or some one else’s, that is the society we live in.

    • Posted by Subterranean Homesick Alien on

      Having the right to chose for oneself is a tenet of ‘liberal’ democracy, not democracy necessarily, which without the constraints of liberalism can veer easily toward mob rule.

      What you are describing sounds like classical liberalism (most recognizable in libertarianism and strains of conservative thought today). From that perspective we should be absolutely free to chose for ourselves, as long as our choices do not negatively impact those around us. This seems to make the question of vaccination a little less clear.

  21. Posted by Hai? on

    Vaccines cannot be compared to seatbelts or life jackets. Life jackets can be taken off after you put one on and if they are unsafe, they are recalled and you get a new life jacket. If a life jacket harms you and you weren’t warned of any potential risks, you can get compensation from the company. The vaccines are approved but with conditions to monitor safety and effectiveness of the vaccine (Health Canada and NACI website). Adverse events are rare but do occur and are still not well understood but this continues to be monitored on a monthly basis (Health Canada website) to determine safety and efficacy. So if the vaccine is recalled, people can’t get unvaccinated. If they suffer a serious adverse event, there is no compensation for them. There are some legitimate reasons for not getting vaccinated (medical, religious, trauma, lacking information, etc.). Comparing vaccines with seat belts and life jackets is very embarrassing for a leader in Health. And where did they even get that comparison? Social media? It’s not based on scientific evidence. It sounds like misinformation Mr. Main. Also, what evidence backs up the assumption that the higher number of cases in Igloolik are due to a low vaccination rate?Provide those stats GN. Assumptions from a politician with no science or medical background are not helpful to anyone and neither is your scolding. If critical thinking and questioning government decisions are now considered misinformation, so are your assumptions. Just say what the CPHO says, that you don’t know for sure.

    • Posted by The analogy of an unvaccinated boater not using a life jacket. on

      There are unvaccinated boaters with or without life jackets, and visa versa. And then you have the vaccinated with same choices made. Comparing vaccination to life jackets, even seat belts may have been used to simplify the importance of a point. The comparison has limited arguments as you point out within that given simplicity. For you to pick out that same simplified comparison and debunk it as not holding weight, indicates you not only missed the simplest point, but you went on to interpret further confusion as which is characteristic of the audience the health minister is trying to educate without any success. I do agree with you thou, that nothing is 100 percent certain in this life, but ignorance do have top roll seats. The next time you are out in a boat, without a life jacket, just notice of your neighbour’s that’s boating along side you with a life jacket. And then considered the doctors advice, in an un recalled life jacket( same life jacket might be recalled tomorrow). And consider also that your neighbor who is vaccinated did the very best to protect themselves, even not knowing all about the vaccination, because life is like that, and rewards the best decisions, even if not perfect. Best to get your vaccination and to wear you life jacket, seat belts, and remember that you don’t know any life jackets or seat belts that was ever recalled.

  22. Posted by delbert on

    I would like debate you on this point. Your ideas are based on theology. Which subscribes to theory that our fundamentals of society, be based on religion.
    Not the choices of freedoms proposed by thoughts conceived in the minds of man.
    Which allow freedoms of choice in a democracy. Those freedoms are constrained by laws that have been developed and approved by the society that conceived those laws. Choosing to have or not to have a vaccination is determined by a personal choice. Based on the information that science has provided. Not a religion.


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