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Pharmacists fear easing of COVID-19 restrictions in N.B. will slow vaccination drive

Click to play video: 'COVID-19 vaccination rates among children differ among Atlantic Canadian provinces' COVID-19 vaccination rates among children differ among Atlantic Canadian provinces
Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization made recommendations this week about COVID-19 boosters for kids. But as Travis Fortnum reports, just getting children to sign up for their first doses has been an uneven effort across the region – Jan 26, 2022

New Brunswick is set to lift many COVID-19 restrictions this weekend, but the executive director of the province’s pharmacists’ association warns the easing could slow the rate of vaccination.

Jake Reid said Thursday that pharmacies are already seeing a slower uptake in vaccinations, and he is concerned that fewer restrictions could leave parents with less incentive to have their children vaccinated.

Read more: One more death, hospitalizations due to COVID-19 decline in New Brunswick

“In January and into February we are seeing a general decline in the total numbers of people who are seeking vaccinations, whether it be first or second dose or booster shots, right across all age groups,” Reid said in an interview.

As of 11:59 p.m. Friday, the province moves to the least restrictive level of the government’s COVID-19 winter plan.

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The limit on indoor informal gatherings will rise to 20 people from 10. Restaurants, bars and gyms – which had been restricted to 50 per cent capacity – will be able to operate at full capacity but will continue using the vaccine passport system. Retail businesses will also open at full capacity.

Masks will remain mandatory for all indoor public places and for outdoor public places where physical distancing can’t be maintained.

Reid said when restrictions were introduced, the demand for vaccinations went up, but now some pharmacy clinics are only 20 to 40 per cent full. Vaccinations are also being offered at community centres and other locations in the province.

“There are so many people who need to get their second doses and get their booster shots, and still a lot of children in that younger age group of five to 11 that still need to get their first dose,” Reid said. “We still haven’t reached 60 per cent of that age group who have received their first dose.”

According to provincial health data, 92.7 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers aged five and over have received their first dose of vaccine, while 86.3 per cent have had two shots and 48.6 per cent have received a booster shot.

Reid said vaccination remains the best way to protect against COVID-19, but with the slowing demand, pharmacies have begun to scale back on their clinics. “Some pharmacies have decided to have their clinics only on one day a week, or only a couple of mornings a week,” he said.

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Click to play video: 'Anti-vaccine mandate protesters converge in Fredericton' Anti-vaccine mandate protesters converge in Fredericton
Anti-vaccine mandate protesters converge in Fredericton – Feb 11, 2022

A Health Department spokesman said Thursday that as the province moves to ease restrictions, it will continue to promote vaccinations.

“High rates of vaccination are important to managing the presence of COVID-19 in our communities, and Public Health’s efforts to vaccinate eligible New Brunswickers against COVID-19 will continue,” communications director Bruce Macfarlane wrote in an email.

He called the province’s vaccination campaign “very successful” and said education efforts will continue to encourage people to get a booster dose. “It is vital for New Brunswickers to have as much protection as possible to help prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death,” he said.

Meanwhile, public health officials announced another person died Thursday in New Brunswick as a result of COVID-19 as hospitalizations continued to fall.

The latest death involves a person in their 70s in the Miramichi region. There have now been 297 COVID-19-related deaths in New Brunswick since the start of the pandemic.

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There were 79 people hospitalized with COVID-19, a drop of 10 from Wednesday. Nine people were in intensive care and five were on ventilators.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 17, 2022.

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