Small town, heavy toll: Exploring Aylmer’s low COVID vaccination rate

Sitting in his car outside a cafe in Aylmer, John Bergen explained why he didn’t get a COVID-19 vaccine. “I think about it,” he said.

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AYLMER “I would just like to get our city back.


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The words of a restaurant worker to a customer were echoed recently by many in this quaint town of 7,500 people, about 20 minutes from Tillsonburg – a long-standing flashpoint in the retreat from COVID restrictions -19 and a continuous hot spot for virus cases.

Residents and business owners in the small town of Aylmer say they are frustrated and dismayed by the pandemic amid an increase in COVID-19 cases in the region and looming public health restrictions.

“Let’s end it,” was the message that Bill Sheppard, a fully vaccinated resident, had for the unvaccinated. “If you don’t want it, don’t. But you can’t go and sit in a restaurant. Just go get shot, ”he said, expressing concern over another lockdown.


Home to several anti-restriction and anti-mask movements amid the pandemic, the city of Elgin County – and its surrounding rural township – are the least vaccinated postal codes in Ontario. About 50 percent of people in the N5H postal code are fully immunized, according to data from the province’s nonprofit ICES, which analyzes health data in Ontario. In the neighboring city of London, on the other hand, it is over 85%.

Sitting in his car outside a cafe in Aylmer, John Bergen explained why he had not received his first COVID-19 vaccine. “I think about it,” he said.

Until recently, Bergen said getting the vaccine was too “of a problem”. But with increasing vaccination mandates and the proof of vaccine requirements, he added that it would become more complicated not to receive both doses.


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“It should be the people’s choice. . . but it becomes the law.

He fears that he will get to a point where he will no longer be able to shop, he said, adding that he plans to receive his first dose soon.

Low vaccination rates have left many residents vulnerable to COVID-19 as cases in the city continue to rise – amid an increase in infections and hospitalizations in Elgin and Oxford counties which is among the worst in Ontario. The situation prompted the health unit to reintroduce public health measures soon to curb the spread.

The London Free Press asked more than a dozen residents, clients and entrepreneurs for their take on the situation. Most have refused to speak officially on what some have described as a “controversial” topic in the city, where many know each other.

A handful of people were not taken aback by the numbers, while others expressed their anger and disappointment.

“To be honest, it’s very sad,” said Karen Ciupka, standing outside her house near the main street. “My husband and I are old. We actually go to St. Thomas to shop because it’s safer. Hope people get on board and get their shots.


The recent spate of infections in the region is largely due to the unvaccinated population, which accounts for around 75% of recent cases in the region. The region’s top public health official, Dr Joyce Lock, said contact tracers were seeing COVID-19 spreading through entire families.

“The common scenario is that we have an unvaccinated adult who contracts COVID at work or at a social event and then brings it home to their entire unvaccinated family,” she said. “Their children become school cases and that puts entire buses and classrooms in self-isolation. This is the cycle that goes on here.


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Aylmer and its neighboring township are home to a diverse population, including many German-speaking Mennonites. The city has attracted widespread attention throughout the pandemic, with the local Church of God leading several anti-containment movements.

For companies like Durkee’s Ltd., a downtown clothing store, the recent spike in the number of cases – and the attention Aylmer has received as a result – has hurt business and significantly reduced foot traffic, said owner Kevin Cross.

“We have people calling all the time saying, ‘I’m a (long-time) customer and I’m not coming any more,’ Cross said. “It’s a frustration. We follow protocol. People don’t get it when they walk into a store.

Like many residents, Monique Hoffer, sales representative at Durkee’s, believes getting vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus is a personal choice. She attributed the low vaccination rates, in part, to diverse beliefs in the community and said that an educational approach needs to be taken.

“We have a diverse community. We have people speaking out. . . and a population that remains isolated and that’s where we see the cases increase, ”said Hoffer, who is fully vaccinated. “They don’t get the education on how to wash their hands and how to stay safe.”


Sylvia Hall, who works at a nearby store, said the pandemic has had a “profound effect” not only on businesses but on the community as a whole.

“It’s unfortunate the way things are,” Hall said. “I have lived here most of my life. We have a wonderful community. We have to protect each other. “

with files from Jennifer Bieman

[email protected]

The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada



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