Premier Blaine Higgs says New Brunswick may revisit the issue of mandatory COVID-19 vaccines.
He made the remarks during an interview with CBC on Monday evening power and politics, after a call with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other premiers.
So far, New Brunswick has maintained that education is important with regards to vaccines.
But the Omicron version is spreading rapidly, and the number of cases and hospitalizations are rising.
Monday saw a record-high hospitalization of 86 people due to the virus, including 13 in intensive care. Ten people are on ventilators.
Hundreds of health care workers are sick or isolated, and hospitals are on red COVID alert level, providing only emergency or urgent services.
“I think this is something that will be discussed further in New Brunswick, and probably across the country,” said Higgs, who began testing COVID-19 with rapid testing after receiving two doses of AstraZeneca and a booster vaccine on December 29. Tested positive for -19.
“Several” members of his immediate family, who were fully vaccinated and received their booster dose, also later tested positive.
Last Thursday, Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said provinces are likely to introduce mandatory vaccination policies in the coming months to tackle the COVID-19 caseloads.
“What we see now is that our health care system in Canada is fragile, our people are exhausted, and the only way we know to get through COVID-19 is this version and any future version of vaccination. is through,” Duclos said.
“In Quebec now, 50 percent of hospitalizations are due to non-vaccination,” he said. “It is a burden on health care workers, a burden on society that is very difficult to bear and difficult for many people to understand.
“So I’m indicating that this is a conversation that I believe the provinces and territories, in support of the federal government, would like to have in the next weeks and months.”
Public patience unconvinced towards ‘wearing thin’
Higgs said the topic received “very limited discussion” during the premier’s call with the prime minister.
He said there are “different views” across the country.
He noted that the New Brunswick Legislature voted in 2020-21 on proposed legislation to strengthen mandatory-vaccination rules for school children. The open vote on Education Minister Dominic Cardi’s bill to eliminate some exemptions was lost 22–20.
Higgs said he voted in favor of it, but “there are different opinions, and very strong opinions.”
Still, that was more than a year ago and “people are wearing a little thinner” on patience without vaccinations, he said.
“They don’t see why they have to ban when they … have gone … the extra mile and vaccinated.
“So this is becoming an issue.”
Higgs observed that people are more willing to vaccinate when certain social activities require it.
“We have seen it – whether your kids are on a sports team and you want to go to sports, or in Quebec… you want to go to the liquor store, you have to get vaccinated.
“When it affects people personally, it easily becomes a choice.”
Target is over 90% complete immunization
Just last Friday, during a COVID briefing, Health Minister Dorothy Shepherd told reporters that mandatory vaccination was not on the table.
“At this point of time, it is not a matter of discussion,” she said.
During that briefing, Shepherd announced that the health care system would “be tested like never before” in the coming weeks.
“It’s a serious issue, but we maintain that education right now that’s pushing for vaccination, showing the difference that the vaccine makes… that will be the path we’ll be on for the foreseeable future.”
“I can’t say what happens down the road. But there is no place in Canada that is looking at the mandate.”
Higgs said he expects the province to be able to fully vaccinate and promote more than 90 percent of the population, “and that will be fine.”
But mandatory vaccines “are a dialogue that will likely happen again in New Brunswick.”
As of Monday, 83.2 percent of eligible New Brunswickers have received two doses, 90.8 percent have received a single dose, and 26 percent have received a booster dose.
According to the CBC’s Vaccine Tracker, 79.1 percent of the total population of the state has a double dose and 86.4 percent has received at least one dose.