AYLMER, ONT. -- Aylmer’s designation as a COVID-19 hotspot means a special vaccine rollout, but residents aren’t impressed with the special treatment.

The town of fewer than 7,500 people is one of the 111 designated COVID-19 hotspots in the province; and one of the smallest to get the designation.

Most hotspot-designated areas -- ones with high case counts -- are in urban centres with high-density living settings.

Aylmer’s designation has again put the focus on an issue that has drawn nationwide attention throughout the pandemic.

The area has a high-profile portion of the population, including many members of the Church of God congregation, who have opposed, or openly defied, provincial COVID-19 protocols like masking rules and gathering limits.

Now the community is in line for an accelerated vaccine rollout, but business owner and former councillor Ted McDonald says the trade-off of negative publicity for accelerated rollout isn’t one he wanted or appreciates, “Because it’s a beautiful community. I love this community, love this town and I’m proud of this town. We’re going to go through this and we’re going to flourish.”

The designations are defined by postal codes. The 'N5H' hotspot includes Aylmer and a large portion of Malahide Township.

Dr. Joyce Lock, medical officer of health for Southwestern Public Health, says work to determine what the hotspot vaccine rollout will look like got underway on Friday.

“Our team is pulling together today and working with our health care partners within that postal code to come up with a strategy.“

Lock says the rollout will still be based on strategic priorities, “We’re going to be looking for vulnerable individuals, vulnerable neighbourhoods and age brackets, again, where there’s more risk.“

Many residents of Aylmer are anxious to have vaccines in arms, and some of those people continue to defend the Church of God members’ position on restrictions.

Jerry Dumoulin says it’s a difficult issue, “The less contact you have, of course, the less chance of spreading anything, right. So, I mean, we all have to do our part but, again, people should have the right to worship. People should have the right to go to church.”

There is also vaccine hesitancy in the community.

Frank Harder was downtown with son Frankie, and says he’s grappling with the decision, “I’ve thought about it. I don’t want to but I’ll have to look into it more to see what it’s all about.”

CTV News reached out to leaders of the Church of God to find out what direction they would give to members about vaccines, but didn’t get a response Friday.

Lock is confident the vaccine rollout will still be effective, even if some don’t get the shot.

“Of course, we’d like to see as many people vaccinated as we possibly can. Yet, I do think we will make substantive inroads decreasing general transmission of the virus within our communities by even getting a good chunk of the population vaccinated.”

She says there has been evidence of that in other jurisdictions. “We’ve been seeing in other countries, such as Israel and the U.K., where they’re getting now somewhere around 60 per cent of the population vaccinated and they’re beginning to see the case counts go down and beginning to back off on some of their measures to restrict movement of people.”

The health unit is already conducting a vaccination program at the Ontario Police College in Aylmer. Dozens of people there have been infected with COVID-19 during a series of outbreaks in recent months, primarily because it is a congregate setting and the training requires a degree of interaction.

Lock says offering protection for the college was imperative because police departments across the province are in need of recruits. But she says that vaccination program is unrelated to the hotspot designation.