Bell Island's dismal vaccination record prompts pleas from local leaders

·3 min read
As of late last month, 66 per cent of eligible Bell Island residents had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, giving it the distinction of having the lowest vaccination rate in Newfoundland and Labrador. A campaign to boost the vaccine rate is now building momentum. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press - image credit)
As of late last month, 66 per cent of eligible Bell Island residents had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, giving it the distinction of having the lowest vaccination rate in Newfoundland and Labrador. A campaign to boost the vaccine rate is now building momentum. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Bell Island leaders are pleading for more residents to roll up their sleeves for the COVID-19 vaccine, and health officials are preparing an intensified campaign, following a revelation that the Conception Bay island has the lowest rate of vaccinations in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"We're trying to get the numbers up as much as we can. I think we're going to be able to accomplish it, but it's going to be slow," Wabana Mayor Gary Gosine said Tuesday.

Data released by the provincial government in late September revealed that 66 per cent of eligible citizens on Bell Island — which has a population of roughly 2,500 — are fully vaccinated against the disease, compared with the provincial benchmark of more than 82 per cent as of this week.

In Portugal Cove-St. Philip's, where the Bell Island ferry service originates, the vaccination rate as of late last month was more than 87 per cent.

Conception Bay East-Bell Island MHA David Brazil described the disparity between two regions of his district as "a little alarming."

In a bid to boost vaccination rates, leaders like Gosine and Brazil are calling on citizens to do better.

"It doesn't help us to know we're the lowest," said Gosine.

Eddy Kennedy/CBC
Eddy Kennedy/CBC

Eastern Health is preparing to deploy a specially equipped van staffed with health experts and a supply of vaccines to the island as early as Thursday morning to make accessibility as easy as possible.

"We will get that vaccine to you," said Brazil.

"If it means going to your house, we'll go to your house. If it means we have to pick you up and bring you to a clinic, we'll do that."

When asked why there appears to be so much vaccine hesitancy on Bell Island, Gosine blamed it on a lack of trust among many citizens in the science behind the vaccine.

"I'm hearing the old story," he said. "They don't know what's in it."

Gosine uses the measles vaccine as an example of how medical and research experts developed a treatment to contain that highly contagious disease.

"You didn't know what was in it when you got the measles shot," said Gosine.

Brazil said there are other factors, such as Bell Island's large commuter workforce, which leave the island early in the morning for jobs in the St. John's area, and return late in the evening.

Ted Dillon/CBC
Ted Dillon/CBC

He said many residents of Bell Island also suffer from mobility limitations, and were unable to avail of the 13 vaccine clinics offered on Bell Island in recent months.

In response, he said, weekend clinics have been offered, and the mobile vaccine unit will bring the service to those in need.

"It will meet people wherever they need to meet," he said.

Brazil is encouraging people skeptical about the vaccine to trust the experts and put aside their fears.

"I've had my double-dose. I've had no ill effects from it. I know now that I'm not only keeping myself safe, but I'm keeping everybody around me safe," he said.

With the province about to implement a vaccine passport system which will require citizens to provide proof of vaccination when availing of various services, Gosine said it's further incentive for residents to get the shot.

"So if you're home and you can't go anywhere, I guess you got to get vaccinated," he said.

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