Mayor tries to shut down pastor’s anti-vaccine broadcasts, while health minister slams misinformation
As COVID-19 cases rise in Igloolik, a church pastor has taken to the airwaves warning people not to get vaccinated, according to the mayor who told him to stop.
Meanwhile, Nunavut’s health minister likened spreading misinformation about vaccines to encouraging someone to go out in a boat without a life jacket.
Pastor Peter Awa broadcasts his community radio programs in Inuktitut. When he’s off the air, he’s a hunter and hamlet councilor — a community leader with one of the lowest vaccination rates in Nunavut. In Igloolik, 54% of eligible people are fully immunized.
Nunatsiaq News could not reach Awa to discuss 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 to the local radio to tell people to stop misinforming and he never came back on the radio about vaccines again,” Ivvalu told Nunatsiaq. News.
Igloolik has been under the territory’s toughest health restrictions since cases surged there last month. Schools and non-essential businesses are closed and travel is restricted. As of February 1, there were 94 active cases of COVID-19 in Igloolik. With a population of around 2,000 people, that means around 5% of Igloolik’s population has tested positive for the virus.
Ivvalu isn’t the only Nunavut leader to take on the fight against COVID-19 misinformation.
Health Minister John Main denounced the spread of vaccine misinformation in the territory during Tuesday’s COVID-19 press conference.
“When we have facts that are provided and repeated and repeated, and there is less uptake in certain communities, I feel like misinformation is part of that,” he said.
“Unfortunately, Igloolik seems to be an example of that, from what I’ve heard from members of the community, and that’s really sad.”
Main repeated comments he made on January 25 when he warned of the “dangerous” spread of vaccine misinformation on social media and community radio. He did not identify by name anyone who spread misinformation.
When asked if Main was referring to Awa, Department of Health spokesman Chris Puglia said the Minister of Health refused to ‘publicly shame’ anyone over the behavior .
Instead, he focused on the vaccine itself, likening it to a life jacket.
“Who is there to tell people not to wear life jackets when they get in a boat? That’s unfortunately what we have when people say, “Don’t take the vaccine,” Main said.
“It’s a personal choice if you choose not to wear a life jacket when you get in a boat, but then go around and say to others, ‘Don’t wear a life jacket’, that’s really sad from where I sit.”
The Government of Nunavut is hosting an immunization clinic in Igloolik for ages 5 to 11 on February 16 and 17 at the community’s middle school and high school.
Appointments for the Moderna vaccine are ongoing, according to the Department of Health. Anyone interested in getting vaccinated can call their local health center to schedule an appointment.