What’s more important: the right to make your own choices or the right to feel safe where you live?
This is the question many are asking after Western University announced those who live in residence will be required to have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine this fall.
With multiple accommodation options also given, Western is doing the responsible thing by prioritizing the well-being of students and giving their in-person return the best chance of success. The University of Alberta should consider following in their footsteps.
Specifically, Western is asking that students arrive with their first dose this fall. Students who are unable to meet this requirement will have two weeks to get their first dose on campus. Those who cannot get the vaccine at all for medical reasons or other protected grounds under the Ontario Human Rights Code can request an accommodation.
The school has begun preparations for an on-campus testing and vaccination centre for the upcoming semester. This will be in addition to “masking and self-screening requirements, enhanced cleaning and ventilation in buildings.”
According to an Ipsos poll for Global News, the idea of vaccine passports — or requiring proof of vaccination in certain contexts — is actually fairly popular amongst Canadians. 67 per cent of respondents supported the idea of passports for attending post-secondary education.
Western University is, however, facing backlash. Asking students for their personal health information can be a privacy issue, many argue. The former privacy commissioner for Ontario, Ann Cavoukian called the decision “appalling.”
However, as a landlord, Western is able to require vaccination from its residents, according to Cara Zwibel, a lawyer with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
The university president at Western, Alan Shepard also points out that Western University is not the first post-secondary institution to make vaccines mandatory. He also believes that other Canadian Universities will begin to move in this direction alongside Western.
“More than 400 American universities have taken this step,” Shepard said in an interview to The Globe and Mail. “So it’s not unprecedented in North America.”
For students, living in residence has certainly not been easy this past year.
At the University of Alberta, students in Lister were suddenly asked to move out with only a few days’ notice in March of last year. Additionally, in St. Joseph’s Men’s Residence, there was a COVID-19 outbreak in September with five confirmed cases.
Students in residence also face many rules living there during COVID-19 that likely leave them feeling socially isolated.
Those returning for in-person learning this fall, deserve some sense of stability and safety — mandating vaccines can help provide this.
The University of Alberta administration has declared that vaccines will not be required “to work or study at the U of A.” However, there is still time for this to change.
A week after Western’s decision, Fanshawe College in London, Ontario, announced a vaccination requirement for those in residence as well. This concept may grow in popularity among Canadian universities as Western has proven that it is possible.
Student residence buildings are susceptible to spreading COVID-19 as many live in close proximity. The University of Alberta should keep in mind that students have the right to go to school in a safe environment.
The benefits of mandating vaccines for those who are able to take them, outweigh risks of facing disagreement from a handful of people.