'Challenging landscape': Some of Alberta's post-secondary students, staff won't require COVID-19 vaccinations
As pandemic restrictions ease, administrators at Alberta universities and colleges are trying to figure out the safest way for staff and students to return to on-campus learning.
University of Calgary professor and infections disease expert Craig Jenne knows the virus spreads indoors when people are close together for extended periods of time.
"And there's probably no better way to describe a university or college lecture hall than a whole bunch of people indoors for a long period of time," said Jenne.
That poses a challenge for administrators. Seneca College in Toronto is the first post-secondary school in Canada to impose a new COVID rule where all staff and students must be fully vaccinated to come back to campus when school starts in the fall.
Officials in Calgary say they won't be following suit.
"Vaccination will not be a mandatory requirement for students," said the University of Calgary in a written statement. "The university supports vaccination and is focused on removing barriers to individuals to access vaccines.
"We are offering medical information around vaccines to address vaccine hesitancy within our campus community," the statement continues.
"In Alberta, it is not possible to require vaccines or insist on knowing vaccine status of individuals. However, we emphatically support the value of vaccines and the importance of vaccination."
Mount Royal University's (MRU) general council and university secretary Amy Nixon says there will be no mandatory vaccinations required at institution either, at least for the time being.
"It's just a very challenging landscape from a legal perspective in Canada," said Nixon. "There is case law that supports mandatory vaccine in health care environments so we will have some students by virtue of their teaching and learning environments will probably require vaccines for their practicums off site."
Nixon says administrators are focused on making the school a safe place for everyone when they return to classes and that includes encouraging vaccinations.
"We continue to look at and have conversations even with our colleagues in the post secondary sector and Alberta Health Services about where there might be opportunity to bring vaccines onto campuses in a bigger way."
Students and staff are torn on the issue. Christine Neave, a staff member at MRU, is 100 per cent in favour of mandatory vaccinations on campus.
"From a personal standpoint that would make me feel a lot safer as a staff member," said Neave. "I also think the far reaching effects for our Mount Royal community as a whole faculty, staff and students, it would be immensely beneficial."
University of Calgary biomechanics student Matson Tulloch thinks imposing a rule about vaccinations would be heavy-handed.
"It's hard to make it mandatory to come to school when everything is not," said Tulloch. "You go to the supermarket and it's not mandatory. It's probably more safe here. I feel like there's a higher proportion of the students that are vaccinated than everyday people."
Administration at Calgary's Southern Alberta Institute of Technology is also not requiring students to be immunized before they head to class.
"Though we are encouraging vaccinations, we are not requiring students nor staff to be vaccinated."
Jenne says it's important to remember that not everyone can be vaccinated who attends post-secondary institutions, but others aren't sure if a vaccination is right for them.
"If you're hesitant talk to your doctor get the information," said Jenne.
"Talk to one of the people who understand your medical condition and back ground and then make an informed decision, not a rumour based decision from social media."