Some small northern Ontario towns report low vaccination rates, but mayors say figures are misleading

In the year since COVID-19 vaccines arrived in northeastern Ontario, some 80 per cent of those over five years old have received their shots. But according to public health data, some parts of the region are far from fully vaccinated. 

Public health officials say local rates don't include shots from pharmacies or nearby towns

While the vaccination rate in northeastern Ontario is up over 80 per cent, health units report it's much lower in some small towns in the region. (Erik White/CBC )

In the year since COVID-19 vaccines arrived in northeastern Ontario, some 80 per cent of those over five years old have received their shots.

But according to public health data, some parts of the region are far from fully vaccinated.

"It's a bit alarming," said Cochrane Mayor Denis Clement of his town's 59 per cent vaccination rate. 

But he said those figures from the health unit do not include shots given out at pharmacies, and he knows many who didn't wait for clinics in Cochrane and drove to Timmins or Iroquois Falls to get the shot. 

"So the numbers are a bit misleading."

Kapuskasing Mayor David Plourde feels the same way about the 62 per cent vaccination rate listed for his town by the Porcupine Health Unit, compared to 78 per cent for the health district overall. 

Small-town mayors in northern Ontario say the low vaccination rates can be deceiving, since local clinics have been busy and some citizens may get their shot in neighbouring towns and cities. (Erik White/CBC )

"It's just not an accurate number we can use. I'd rather look at it positively. When I talk to the people administering the vaccine clinics, all the clinics are full up," said Plourde. 

It's been almost a year since 15 people died during an outbreak at Extendicare Kapuskasing, which Plourde says made the town of 8,200 realize "how bad it could be."

"We were wanting vaccination in our community and recognizing that was what we needed to get through and the community hasn't forgotten." 

Porcupine public health also reports only 57 per cent of the 4,500 people in Iroquois Falls have at least two shots. 

"I'm surprised, but at the same time the government has to do a little better job making sure people have the right information," said Mayor Tory DeLaurier.

"If you try and force someone to do something, they're probably not going to do it. But if you give them the choice and give them to the right information to make an educated decision, hopefully they'll make the right choice for themselves." 

A short lineup forms outside of a vaccination clinic in the small town of St. Charles, part of the Sudbury East region that the health unit says has a lower vaccination rate than the rest of the district. (Erik White/CBC )

The Porcupine Health Unit said it's satisfied with the vaccine rollout so far, but Public Health Sudbury and Districts said it uses local figures to know where to re-double it's efforts.

"Where we do see lower rates, we work really closely with our community partners to try to get to the bottom of the story," said Nastassia McNair, a program manager with the Sudbury health unit. 

Its local rates range from a near-perfect 99 per cent in the Chapleau area to 69 per cent in "Sudbury East," which includes Markstay-Warren, French River and St. Charles. 

That lower rate surprised 64-year-old Carmen Wadman who brought her 87-year-old mother to a vaccination clinic in St. Charles for her third dose. 

"People probably feel safer," she said of the spread out rural area. 

Wadman, who has had two doses and has to wait a few weeks to be eligible for the booster shot, said 22 months since it started she continues to be careful about COVID-19, washing her hands constantly, wiping down grocery carts and wearing gloves to pump gas. 

"From Day 1 there was not enough information, so everyone was extremely cautious and nervous about it," she said.

Many health units, including in North Bay-Parry Sound, do not publish community-specific information about COVID cases and vaccination rates. (Erik White/CBC)

Most health units in the northeast aren't as specific with their vaccination statistics.

That includes Algoma Public Health, which is chaired by Blind River Mayor Sally Hagman.

Early in the pandemic, she was one of several local leaders who lobbied for more local info on the spread of COVID-19. 

Hagman said she would still love to know how many in her town are vaccinated, but doesn't see it as a priority in the face of Omicron.

"You know until we can feel that we're in control of this situation, I think patience is the number one thing for all of us." 


Erik White


Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to