Faculty, staff, parents group oppose University of Waterloo vaccine mandate in open letter

A group of faculty, staff, students and parents of students at the University of Waterloo have signed an open letter to the university’s administrators, calling on them to repeal the university’s vaccine mandate issued earlier in the month.

University says policies based on best available advice from public health officials

The University of Waterloo announced in August a vaccine policy for the upcoming academic year. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

A group of faculty, staff, students and parents of students at the University of Waterloo have signed an open letter to the university's administrators, calling on them to repeal the campus vaccine mandate issued earlier in the month. 

Beginning Sept. 7, anyone visiting the University of Waterloo's campuses or locations must show proof of vaccination against COVID-19. 

Exemptions will be allowed for people who can't be vaccinated for medical reasons or who have grounds protected under the province's Human Rights Code. These people, and those who are not yet fully vaccinated, will have to test negative for COVID-19 before visiting campus. 

"These mandates are unlawful, and their net effect will be to cause disease, not to prevent it," the open letter said. 

A copy of the letter seen by CBC Kitchener-Waterloo had 32 signatures as of Friday afternoon. 

The top three signatures are from University of Waterloo faculty: Michael Palmer, Edward Vrscay and Richard Mann. Seven signatures are from staff at the university, one is from an instructor and the rest are from parents and students. 

In a statement to CBC Kitchener-Waterloo, Palmer described himself as the main author behind the letter. Palmer said he stands behind it and was trained as a medical doctor in Germany, which qualifies him to speak to matters involving medicine.

'Vaccines are safe': UW

Nick Manning, a spokesperson for the University of Waterloo, said the school is aware of the open letter. He said the university respects its community members' right to express their opinions, though he said academic freedom comes with a responsibility not to misrepresent expertise. 

"There is now overwhelming evidence that vaccines are safe and that they will protect individuals from the worst of COVID-19," said Manning. 

Manning noted the Council of Ontario Medical Officers of Health have recommended universities adopt policies that involve requiring proof of vaccination against COVID-19. 

More than 2,000 people submitted proof of vaccination Friday, within an hour of the university launching its proof of vaccination system, Manning said. 

Speaking to reporters at a media briefing Friday, the region's medical officer of health, Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, said she supports the university's efforts. 

"I would like to applaud our local institutions for stepping up and putting in place immunization policies that will help increase immunization rates and better protect their communities," she said. 

University of Waterloo pharmacy professor Kelly Grindrod said even people who work or study at universities can struggle to sift through information about a new topic, such as vaccination. 

"When I look at a letter like that, that's my concern: How many people on here haven't been supported in a way yet that they feel like they could get the vaccine from someone that they trust? Or what is it about the information they're accessing that's making them worried that it's not safe for them?"

Whereas she might typically point someone to a Health Canada or public health website, Grindrod said not everyone trusts information from the government. 

In this situation, Grindrod recommends speaking with a family doctor or other trusted healthcare provider who can speak about their own experience with vaccination and address specific concerns. 

"People who are not getting the vaccine right now are not bad people, they're just people," she said.