FREDERICTON — New Brunswick's chief medical officer confirmed Monday the province had failed in its bid to have 75 per cent of the population, age 12 and over, receive a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the day.
Dr. Jennifer Russell told a news conference that with 70.3 per cent of the eligible population vaccinated with one dose, the province's plan to enter Phase 1 of its reopening plan had to be put on hold.
"As good as this is, it's not good enough," Russell said, adding that a premature decision to loosen health-protection rules could lead to another wave of infections.
"I am confident we'll get there in the coming days ... and we'll take a step toward the normal summer that everyone wants."
Russell made a point of encouraging young people to get vaccinated, noting those under the age of 30 had the lowest vaccination rates in the province.
"Realizing that this group has been eligible for only the last month — and for those under 18 it's be less than two weeks — there's no time like today to book a first dose appointment," she said.
She then made a direct appeal to the province's young people.
"When you get vaccinated, opportunities will open that you have not had in more than a year. Spending time this summer hanging out with friends at the beach or at the camp, having bonfires and barbecues — that can happen as soon as enough of us are vaccinated."
In the past week alone, the vaccination rate for those between the ages of 12 and 19 has risen from 16.5 per cent to 44.7 per cent, health officials said.
Premier Blaine Higgs said the province's vaccination rate has been climbing steadily in recent weeks, but he confirmed it will take another four or five days for New Brunswick to reach its goal and for the reopening plan to kick in.
"While we have not reached 75 per cent, we have made great strides towards reaching this goal," he said. "It's everyone's job to put us over the finish line."
Despite the setback, Higgs said he's confident the province will succeed in its plan to open New Brunswick to the rest of Canada, with certain conditions, on July 1.
As of Monday, New Brunswick's vaccination rate was higher than that of its Atlantic neighbours, and it was higher than the rates posted in Alberta and Manitoba, Russell said.
"There's a path to a normal summer, and it leads through a vaccination clinic," she said.
On May 27, New Brunswick unveiled its road map to have all of its COVID-19 restrictions lifted by Aug. 2. In the first stage of a three-stage plan, which was to start on Monday, isolation and testing will no longer be required for those travelling within Atlantic Canada, with the exception of Nova Scotia.
The next stage could be reached as early as July 1, but only if at least 20 per cent of New Brunswickers over the age of 65 have received their second dose of vaccine and the entire province is at the yellow alert level — the second-lowest level. At that point, the Atlantic travel bubble will be reopened to Nova Scotia and travel registration will no longer be required for those in Atlantic Canada.
Canadians coming to the province from outside the Atlantic bubble with at least one dose of vaccine will be permitted entry with no isolation required. Those with no vaccinations will be required to isolate with testing. These rules will also apply to travellers from Maine, but they won't be implemented until federal travel restrictions change.
In the second stage, restaurants, gyms and salons will be permitted to operate at regular capacity if they maintain contact lists for clients.
On Aug, 2, New Brunswick Day, all health restrictions will be lifted if 75 per cent of New Brunswickers aged 12 and over have received a booster shot.
Meanwhile, health officials reported one new case of COVID-19 on Monday — an individual in their 30s in the Fredericton area who is a contact of a previously confirmed case. As of Monday, the province was dealing with 111 active cases, including three people recovering in a New Brunswick hospital.
The province has reported 2,266 confirmed cases since the pandemic began, including 44 deaths.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2021.
— By Michael MacDonald in Halifax
The Canadian Press