This article has been translated (using google translate) directly from the Journal de Montreal page.  Read the original articles here:

 Welcome to the Pontiac, the hard heads of vaccination in Quebec

Nora T. Lamontagne

Saturday, 5 February 2022 00:00UPDATE Saturday, 5 February 2022 00:00

Welcome to the Pontiac: a rural and English-speaking region of the Outaouais which is one of the least vaccinated in Quebec. The Journal went to meet its inhabitants to try to understand why nearly one in three people still and always refuse the injection.  

Pull Quote Take a place largely spared from the virus, where the vaccine passport has little day-to-day effect and where independence of spirit is a regional pride, and obtain low vaccination coverage, as in the Pontiac.

In total, 68% of the population received two doses there, a figure well below the provincial average of 81%.

“At this point, each first dose that we give is a real feat,” quipped pharmacist Pavlina Zhivkov, based in the small town of Mansfield-et-Pontefract.

It is mainly the 25-34 year olds who are lagging behind, a widespread phenomenon across the province (see text below).

The Journal conducted interviews with health professionals, elected officials, merchants, vaccinated, undecided and anti-vaccine Pontiac to better understand this vaccine hesitation.

As the Ministry of Health tries to convince the more than 500,000 Quebec adults still unvaccinated, this understanding is more important than ever.

A pandemic? Where?

You should know that the coronavirus has not really wreaked havoc in the Pontiac, where 14,000 inhabitants are scattered over a territory of 14,000 km2.

“Especially at the start, people saw the pandemic on television, but not in their community,” notes Pontiac MNA André Fortin, in remission from COVID-19.

Only two outbreaks have occurred in seniors’ residences in the region. And the victims of the coronavirus can be counted on the fingers of one hand, there were only five.

“We had deaths, but not in catastrophic numbers like in the city. It is perhaps less striking for the population,” adds Dr. John Wootton, who has been practicing in the Pontiac for 35 years.

This is also the conclusion of anthropologist Ève Dubé, of the National Institute of Public Health of Quebec.

“In a more rural setting where there have been fewer outbreaks, you can consider yourself less at risk, which can demotivate you from getting vaccinated,” she says.

But there is also the character of the Pontissois. To the question, most often asked in English in this region: “why are people so poorly vaccinated?”, a considerable number of people answered us: “people around here don’t like to be told what to do (people here don’t like being told what to do).

And the more the government insists, the worse it is (see text below).

“With all the things they take away from us, I feel like a child at school being punished,” rages Holly Lalonde, a 35-year-old mother who wouldn’t get vaccinated “for anything at all.” world “.

For his part, pharmacist Marc Aufranc, who has been working in Shawville for 5 years, got used to the idea that it is useless to try to convince the most recalcitrant.

“I’ve already persisted for 30 minutes with people who read nonsense on the internet without checking their sources… You don’t make a thirsty donkey drink,” he says, a philosopher.

A useless passport

Finally, the famous vaccine passport is not as necessary in the countryside as in the city.

“Let’s say that it doesn’t prevent much here at the moment,” underlines Jane Toller, prefect of the MRC Pontiac

Its territory does not have any business of more than 1500 m2 which requires said passport. You can easily get wine at an SAQ agency, where it is not necessary. Restaurant dining rooms and gyms are closed. And there is no SQDC around.

“The vaccine passport would have pushed me more to get vaccinated when I lived in Hull than [in Campbell’s Bay]”, sums up Kim Laroche, a doubly vaccinated 30-year-old.

Who are the unvaccinated?

The Journal has spoken with several unvaccinated people, but none of them identify with the “anti-vaccine” or conspiratorial movement, even when they deny the existence of the virus or wrongly link vaccines to autism . “I’m not an anti-vax, that’s the label that the mainstream media have stuck on us,” says Perry Hodgins, a 65-year-old retired farmer we met in Shawville.


Robert Boulet, 57, has “zero trust in pharmaceuticals”, hence his reluctance to receive the vaccine from Pfizer or Moderna. That said, the Clarendon building contractor, who is also a part-time organic market gardener, promises to be the first in line the day a dose of Medicago becomes available. The Quebec-based company sought review and approval of its vaccine from Health Canada in December.


Mr. Robert Boutlet
Photo: Nora T. Lamontagne / JDM Robert Boulet, a contractor and organic farmer is not vaccinated



Non-vaccinated Pontiacs preferred to consume small doses of liquid veterinary ivermectin – a dewormer for horses – to protect themselves against COVID rather than receiving a vaccine. “I know some really smart people who have taken it,” confirms Shauna McKenna, of B&M in Shawville, which sells farm equipment. Pharmacist Marc Aufranc also received requests from patients seeking to obtain it. In early fall, unsubstantiated theories circulated online about the usefulness of ivermectin in preventing or curing COVID.

The virus of discord

Vaccination creates tension within tightly knit communities

In Shawville, as in countless small towns where everyone knows each other, the polarization surrounding the vaccine threatens many relationships.

“This is probably the subject that has divided us the most, as far as I can remember,” says Bill McCleary, mayor of Shawville, located 80 km from Gatineau.

Because here, almost everyone knows at least one non-vaccinated person, whether he is a relative, a neighbor, a colleague or a childhood friend.

“[In rural areas], anti-vaccines and pro-vaccines are no longer just theoretical. We know who believes what and we lose our temper more easily,” says psychologist Geneviève Beaulieu-Pelletier.

In the small town of 1,500 souls, Le Journal has noticed that many are hesitant to comment on the subject of the pandemic, as if they were anticipating a conflict.

Shawville Mayor, Bill McCleary
Photo: Nora T. Lamontagne / JDM
The subject of vaccination divides the community of Shawville. Its mayor, Bill McCleary, still remembers the small commotion caused by anti-vaccines after the imposition of the vaccine passport at the local arena in mid-November


“I’m not going to lie, it creates a bit of friction,” says Holly Lalonde, a former hairdresser who refuses to be vaccinated.

She says that one of her sisters has received her doses and only hangs out with other vaccinated people.

“I haven’t seen her for a year”, drops the 35-year-old woman by buying a pint of milk without wearing a mask, when it is prohibited in the shops.

Flexible rules

In this regard, Le Journal has noticed that some Shawville merchants are ignoring health rules or refusing to take a position on vaccination to avoid offending loyal customers.

“The unvaccinated have as much money to spend as the vaccinated. I have no choice but to remain neutral,” says a restaurant owner who wished to remain anonymous so as not to harm business.

Owner of the family bakery Maison du Pontiac, Dan Duggan is of a completely different opinion.

“I’ve lost clients because here we make sure that the rules are respected and that it’s safe for everyone,” says the entrepreneur, whose entire staff is vaccinated.

Dan Duggan
Photo: Nora T. Lamontagne / JDM
Dan Duggan, owner of the Maison Pontiac bakery, makes it a point to respect all public health rules, as evidenced by his mask and the Plexiglas in his business established in Shawville.


Finger pointing

Meanwhile, unvaccinated people, whatever the reason for their decision, are being singled out.

“They are the ones who are delaying the whole group,” plagues Allan Derouin, a triple-vaccinated construction worker.

But this kind of comments weighs heavily on morale, in the long run, confides a non-vaccinated, who is daily reproached for his vaccination status.

“They call me ‘Bob the conspirator’,” grimaces Robert Boulet, excluded from the amateur hockey games he had played on the same team for 30 years because he was not vaccinated.

The efforts made


The Native Community of Pontiac, an association that brings together nearly 425 Métis established in the region, prides itself on a vaccination rate that is close to 100% among its members.

His secret? “They are following the leader,” laughs Richer Levesque, 76, head of the organization.

More seriously, the latter made a point of personally reassuring its members who had doubts.

Paul Crété, Métis elder, also made appointments online for several members and accompanied them to the vaccination center, if necessary. Both believe that the bond of trust has a lot to do with this success.


Pharmacist Pavlina Zhivkov and her employees succeeded in injecting more than 2,000 doses into the Pontiac population through patience and understanding.

“Our nurse can sit down for half an hour to convince a person to get vaccinated. They ask for arguments, it’s long, it never ends, but she takes the time. It’s on a case-by-case basis,” says the sympathetic pharmacist.

The Warden of the MRC Pontiac, Jane Toller, is convinced that this approach has made “a big difference” in vaccination coverage in the Mansfield-et-Pontefract area.

Vaccination there is “a little less clinical, a little more reassuring,” she says, especially since the Zhivkovs are recognized in the community as mother-to-daughter pharmacists.

In a territory as vast as the Pontiac, mobile vaccination clinics made it possible to reach more isolated populations this summer.

“This is the sector where we have done the most due to geographical reasons and the vaccination coverage which is not optimal”, explains Nency Héroux, director of vaccination at the CISSS de l’Outaouais.

Several of the 156 inhabitants of Rapides-des-Joachims were thus able to receive a dose during the passage of a “vaccibus” in July 2021. The nearest vaccination clinic was otherwise 120 km away.

Young adults lag behind

The hoped-for target of 75% vaccination coverage in the Pontiac is far from being achieved, especially among young adults, despite the efforts of public health in the region.

On a freezing afternoon in late January, the constant back and forth in the parking lot of the MRC’s only permanent vaccination center, in Campbell’s Bay, gives the impression that the Pontiac is catching up.

However, Le Journal has mainly encountered doubly vaccinated people who have come to get their booster, as we say here, and not their first dose.

In fact, only 80 Pontissois, out of thousands of non-vaccinated, finally decided to receive a first vaccine against COVID in January.

Carefree youth

In this MRC where the population is aging, the most difficult to motivate are without a doubt young adults, according to the CISSS de l’Outaouais.

Only 54% of 25 to 29 year olds and 56% of 30 to 34 year olds in the region are adequately protected.

“We haven’t done an investigation to understand what’s going on, so I can only be cautious. But there are populations more or less affected by COVID and that influences awareness of vaccination, ”says Nency Héroux, head of the vaccination campaign in Outaouais.

For the most recalcitrant of them, nothing helps. Neither the vaccine passport, nor the idea finally abandoned to impose an antivax tax, nor the nine ephemeral clinics in remote municipalities this summer, nor the opening of the vaccination center on Saturday.

Moreover, the remoteness of the vaccination sites does not seem to constitute a barrier to the vaccination of young adults.

After all, they are used to driving tens of kilometers daily, especially to go to work.

Vaccinated in Ontario?

The CISSS de l’Outaouais also suspects that some Quebecers working in Ontario received their doses there, without having them validated in Quebec.

Nency Héroux is convinced that the Pontiac’s 68% vaccination rate is “underestimated” because of this phenomenon.

Neither the Quebec Ministry of Health nor that of Ontario could provide figures to validate this theory.

The adverse effects of the health passport

The more punitive approach adopted by the government in the hope of persuading the last holdouts to get vaccinated against COVID is having counterproductive effects, experts worry.

“All the pressure that we are currently putting on the unvaccinated can have the perverse effect of solidifying their beliefs,” underlines anthropologist Ève Dubé, who studies vaccine hesitancy within the Institut national de la public health (INSPQ).

This means that the imposition of the health passport or even the threat of a “considerable” tax for the non-vaccinated, even if it has been abandoned, have steered some undecided people rather than convince them to receive the injection.

“If someone was more in reaction to authority, he perceived these incentives as another attempt to control him,” says psychologist Geneviève Beaulieu-Pelletier.

The anger of the participants in the “freedom convoy”, which stormed Ottawa last weekend, is a telling example.

But this hypothesis is also true in the MRC Pontiac, where several non-vaccinated people told us that they were more confident than ever in their decision.

“I became a second-class citizen. The more my rights are suppressed, the more it annoys me,” said the unvaccinated owner of an SME in Shawville who wanted to remain anonymous.

Worse still, the use of repressive measures could also undermine confidence in the authorities in the longer term, warns Ms. Beaulieu-Pelletier.

Wasted effort

At this stage of the pandemic, the latter nevertheless considers that it is now too late to try to convince the fiercest anti-vaccines.

“It’s already been almost two years… The longer it goes, the more polarized they are. They won’t come anymore,” she says.

In any case, the two specialists do not expect the entire population, without exception, to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

“The closer we get to 100%, the more difficult it is to convince people to get vaccinated,” notes Ève Dubé, of the INSPQ.

Despite everything, Geneviève Beaulieu-Pelletier advises not to reject or ridicule her unvaccinated loved ones and to be there for them.

“It can be very shameful to change your mind [about the vaccine] after all this time. If they feel supported, they are more likely to agree to make this kind of change.”