All New Brunswickers aged 18 and older will be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster starting Monday, as long as five months have passed since their second dose.

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard made the announcement during a COVID briefing Friday morning, calling it an “important step forward” in protecting New Brunswickers as the Omicron variant surges.

All pregnant women are also immediately eligible.

“In the coming weeks, it is likely the health-care system will be tested like never before,” said Shephard.

Hospitalizations and ICU admissions are expected to continue to rise. More health-care workers will be off work. And service reductions will continue, she said.

The pandemic “poses a grave threat to our health-care system,” said Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health.

“It is urgent that every New Brunswicker get vaccinated.”

Since Aug. 1, unvaccinated New Brunswickers have been hospitalized for COVID-19 at a rate of 283.5 per 100,000, she noted. By comparison, the rate for those vaccinated with at least two doses of a vaccine is 31.1.

“Make an appointment today,” Russell said. “Get your shot as soon as you can.”

The province’s original plan called for eligibility to expand to people 40 to 49 by “mid-January,” people 30 to 39 by “late January,” and people 18 to 29 by February, according to the government’s website.

Right now, those who are eligible include people 50 or older, members of First Nations communities, and residents of nursing homes and adult residential facilities, as long as at least five months have passed since their second dose.

Health-care workers, school employees, and early childhood education and daycare staff are also eligible five months after their second shot, along with their immediate household family members aged 18 or older.

People who are immunocompromised can also book a booster dose if at least five months have passed since their last mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.

As of Thursday, 83 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers had received at least two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, 90.5 per cent had received their first dose, and 22.6 per cent had received a booster dose.

The COVID briefing comes as New Brunswick is entering the Omicron-fuelled fifth wave of the pandemic, according to the regional health authorities.

“As we enter the fifth wave of the pandemic, [the Vitalité Health Network] is getting ready to maintain the health care system in place for New Brunswickers,” Vitalité said in a “situation report” issued late Thursday afternoon.

“As a health care leader, we understand that this period can be worrisome. The network is committed to communicating proactively with the public as often as necessary.”

Vitalité and the Horizon Health Network both moved to the red COVID alert level on Dec. 31, providing emergency or urgent services only.

At that time, Horizon also referred in a “status report” to “dealing with a fifth wave.”

“The highly contagious Omicron variant has resulted in a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases among our population,” it said. “This has impacted Horizon’s staffing levels in an already stretched health care system.”

The government has made no mention of a fifth wave in its daily COVID-19 news releases.

Vitalité is running at 98 per cent capacity with 36 COVID patients, including 14 in intensive care, according to the situation report.

The hospital with the highest bed occupancy rate, Stella-Maris-de-Kent Hospital, at 130 per cent, has no COVID patients. Meanwhile the Edmundston Regional Hospital, which has the highest number of COVID patients, at 23, has the third lowest occupancy rate at 89 per cent.

A total of 108 Vitalité health-care workers are off because of COVID. That’s up from 70 on Tuesday.

“Hundreds” of health-care workers across the province are isolating at home because of the virus, Public Health said Thursday.

Sixty-three people are hospitalized with the virus provincewide, including 19 in intensive care. Eleven people are on ventilators.

New Brunswick recorded another COVID-related death Thursday, a person in their 30s in the Fredericton region, Zone 3.

Based on PCR (polymerase chain reaction) lab tests, which are being limited to groups considered at the highest risk of being hospitalized because of COVID-19, Public Health also reported 672 new cases of COVID-19, putting the active case load at 7,267.

That total does not include rapid test results, which are not diagnostic but the province is now treating as confirmatory. Those results have not been made public.

A total of 632,377 PCR tests have been conducted to date.

Use of the free rapid-test kits is now limited to people aged two to 49 who have symptoms, and they must book an appointment to pick up a kit.

New Brunswick has had 19,017 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 11,579 recoveries so far, and 169 deaths.

Omicron surge compounds nursing shortage

The president of the New Brunswick Nurses Union says the Omicron surge taxing the health-care system is compounding the longstanding issue of multiple nurse vacancies.

As of Tuesday, 571 health-care workers across the province were isolating at home because of the virus, according to Public Health.

Meanwhile, there are about 1,300 nurse vacancies across the province, said Paula Doucet. In some emergency units, there are six nurses on shift when there should be 15, she said.

“They’re left scrambling and taking on more responsibility and trying to do … the best they can with the resources that they have, knowing full well that they’re just touching the surface of each of those patients that are requiring their expertise and their care.”

Nurses continue to leave the profession through retirements and career moves, said Doucet.

“We’re also hearing the stories of nurses, you know, mid-career with lots of experience and expertise just saying, ‘I’m not doing this anymore, but I’m going to sign up for travel nursing and I’m going to go somewhere else in Canada, the U.S. or another part of the world for a short period of time … do my nursing there, and then come home and rest and rejuvenate, spend time with my family.'”

Doucet says they’re leaving to seek better pay, and a lighter workload.

(this story/news/article has not been edited by PostX News staff and is published from a syndicated feed)

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