The head of the New Brunswick Medical Society says it's time to get tough with people who resist getting vaccinated against COVID-19
Dr. Mark MacMillan is calling on the province to use penalties, such as restricted hours, reduced access, or banning people who are unvaccinated from big-box stores, such as Costco and Walmart, to encourage compliance.
But he stops short at proposing mandatory vaccinations or following the lead of Quebec and imposing a health tax on the unvaccinated.
"Health care is universal across this country, it is a right for every individual to access health care, and I want to stress that right now, that no matter what your vaccine status is in this province, if you need the health-care system, we will provide the care that we can at that time to our best effort," he said.
"It looks different now than it did two and a half years ago, for sure because of the pandemic. But we are still providing health care and we will continue to do that."
More than eight per cent of eligible New Brunswickers have still not received any vaccine, as COVID hospitalizations and case numbers continue to soar because of the Omicron variant.
In a statement, Premier Blaine Higgs said he is "pleased the New Brunswick Medical Society supports the idea of taking action to encourage vaccination," and respects its advocacy for its members and for all health-care providers.
"If any changes will be made, they'll be made through Cabinet and COVID Cabinet Committee," he said.
Last week, Higgs told CBC News the province may revisit the issue of mandatory COVID-19 vaccines.
Public patience is "wearing a little thin" toward the unvaccinated, he said. "They don't see why they have to have restrictions when they … have gone … the extra mile and got vaccinated."
New Brunswick may also follow Quebec's lead on asking for proof of COVID-19 vaccination at liquor and cannabis stores, he has said, noting everything is "on the table" as the province seeks ways to make life "increasingly uncomfortable" for people who choose not to be vaccinated.
Higgs has asked various departments for suggestions regarding where restrictions can be tightened for the unvaccinated.
MacMillan said the province should look at the data from other jurisdictions to see what has worked in increasing vaccination rates.
"Mr. Higgs has said everything's on the table," he said. "We're suggesting everything should stay on the table and have that discussion moving forward."
"Some people when — no matter what education you provide, what discussion you have — some people will decide in the end that vaccination just is not for them. And that's why we speak on herd immunity. We won't probably ever get 100 per cent, and that's OK.
"But if we can get to a high enough number, where the general population is safe and we're moving forward and our health-care system can recover, that's important."
3 COVID-related deaths, 124 hospitalizations
Three more people with COVID-19 have died, bringing the total number of deaths during the pandemic in New Brunswick to 199, including 25 in the last eight days.
The latest deaths include a person in their 70s in the Moncton region, Zone 1, a person in their 50s in the Saint John region, Zone 2, and a person in their 80s in the Edmundston region, Zone 4.
Public Health does not distinguish between people who died from COVID-19 and people who died from something else but also had COVID-19.
There are now 124 people in hospital who have the disease, one more than on Wednesday. Seventy-one of these patients were admitted for reasons other than COVID-19.
Twelve patients are in intensive care, nine of them on ventilators. Of the patients in hospital, 58 per cent are either unvaccinated, partially vaccinated, or had their second dose of vaccine more than six months ago and haven't had a booster.
Some 417 health-care workers who have tested positive for COVID are now isolating, Public Health said.
The province's COVID dashboard says 488 new COVID cases were confirmed through PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing, putting the active caseload at 4,389. That figure doesn't include people who took rapid tests and tested positive.
An additional 953 people reported online that they tested positive on rapid tests.