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N.L. mayor says vaccine opposition dividing families as province reports nine cases

·3 min read

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — The mayor of a small western Newfoundland community is hoping the province's vaccine passport will improve lagging inoculation rates in his region.

Danny Conway is the mayor of St. George's, a town of roughly 1,200 people about 90 kilometres south of Corner Brook.

St. George's sits in the Bay St. George area, which has one of the lowest rates of vaccination against COVID-19 in the province. Online data shows about 75 per cent of eligible residents are fully vaccinated, compared with 84 per cent for the entire province.

Conway said he believes that's at least partly tied to anti-vaccination sentiments imported from Western Canada, where a lot of rotational workers from the community are employed.

"And it seems like they do bring that thinking back here," Conway said in an interview Wednesday, adding they influence their families and friends, and post all kinds of misinformation online.

Conway and his wife are both fully vaccinated and they've turned down afternoons on the local trails with unvaccinated family members who refuse to get a shot, he said. "It's separating families," he added.

Newfoundland and Labrador health officials reported nine new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, for a total of 46 active reported infections in the province. Dr. Rosann Seviour, acting chief medical officer of health, noted there are still roughly 76,000 eligible residents who are not yet fully immunized. The group represents about 16 per cent of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians aged 12 and over.

"One of our greatest challenges right now is those who are eligible for a vaccine but have not yet been vaccinated," she told reporters Wednesday.

Last month, an outbreak ripped through the central Newfoundland town of Botwood and its neighbouring communities, ultimately involving 56 infections and at least four deaths. The province has logged 15 deaths since the onset of the pandemic, and eight have occurred within the past month.

Since late February, 83 per cent of the province's cases have involved people who weren't fully vaccinated and almost 91 per cent of COVID-19 patients who were hospitalized or died were not fully vaccinated, Seviour said.

"When we do see breakthrough cases with hospitalization or death, it is in those most at risk, such as the elderly or those who have other compromising health conditions," she said.

Conway said there were six or seven cases of COVID-19 in his community as of Sunday, and not even the arrival of the virus has changed the minds of vaccine-hesitant residents. He said he doesn't know what more public health officials could do to convince them to get a shot.

"Social media is playing just such a big role in this pandemic," he said. "You would have to have 300 full-time staff on just to be countering the nonsense that's put on Facebook and Twitter and what have you."

"It's an uphill battle for public health and for everyone," he added.

The province's vaccine passport, which uses an app called NLVaxPass, becomes mandatory on Friday. Conway hopes people who believe anti-vaccination misinformation will choose to get their shots rather than be turned away from restaurants or churches.

"We're going 100 per cent behind the VaxPass," Conway said. "Wherever we can use it, we're going to use it."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 20, 2021.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press

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