A view of the border crossing station in Houlton, Maine. Credit: Alexander MacDougall / Houlton Pioneer Times

HOULTON, Maine — With the world’s longest border having been closed for more than a year, the challenge now is how to safely reopen without exposing people to further infections of COVID-19.

In the province of New Brunswick, which borders Maine, lockdown measures have been particularly strict. Travel has been restricted from the U.S. even from those possessing dual citizenship or having family in the province.

One suggestion is instituting “vaccine passports” — a way of certifying only those who have been fully vaccinated against the virus for travel between the two countries.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said on April 23 that a vaccine passport was one of the options being discussed, but that he was more focused on improving vaccination rates in New Brunswick. As of April 10, only 17 percent of New Brunswickers had received the COVID-19 vaccine, compared to more than 40 percent of Mainers.

“We’ve had some discussion federally and in relation to my colleagues in the prime minister’s office in relation to vaccine passports,” Higgs said. “But the reality will be focusing on, can we get to a point where we have equal vaccination levels on both sides of the border.”

Part of the disparity between the vaccination rates is the availability of vaccines to eligible people. The United States now allows anyone 16 or older to receive a vaccine shot. In New Brunswick, only people ages 65 and older in the general population are allowed to receive a shot. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that the goal of all adult Canadians receiving the vaccine should be met by the end of September 2021.

Higgs expressed some personal hesitation about using vaccine passports, preferring instead to accelerate the pace of the vaccine rollout in Canada.

“Let’s hope it’s not necessary,” Higgs said of the idea of vaccine passports. “I think our focus is, let’s get the vaccines in the arms in the next two months.”