Post-secondary schools help international students meet vaccination requirements

Ontario post-secondary schools reopening to in-person learning after months of emphasizing virtual studies are working to ensure students coming from overseas can meet COVID-19 vaccine requirements with minimal disruption to their studies.

Ontario universities, colleges among those with vaccine mandates to live or learn on campus

International students coming to Canada are required to have the right type of vaccination against COVID-19 to move into residence. (Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty Images)

Ontario post-secondary schools finally reopening to in-person learning are working to ensure students coming from overseas can meet COVID-19 vaccine requirements with minimal disruption to their studies.

Gary Hallam, Conestoga College's vice-president international and executive dean in Waterloo, said some international students who were vaccinated abroad must get another shot on arrival in Canada. 

"Those who do not have Canadian-approved vaccination, either one or both of them, they have to self-isolate for the 14 days, do the testing as required by the federal government [and] we monitor them, contact them daily," Hallam told CBC K-W.

"Once their approved test comes back negative, we then work with them, assisting them. As they come out of isolation, they can begin getting their vaccination."

Students get grace period

Since March 2020, with the onset of the pandemic, universities and colleges across Canada have emphasized virtual learning as in-person classes were pretty much on hold as a result of lockdowns and safety protocols. 

With campuses reopening in September as provinces have instituted reopening plans, many post-secondary schools have issued vaccine mandates to live or learn on site. They include requiring that students — international and domestic — have at least one dose of a World Health Organization-authorized vaccine to move into residence.

The universities said they'll give residents a grace period to comply with the requirements and help young newcomers get the right vaccinations in Canada.

"We have our health unit that works with them so they can get the vaccine on campus. We also partnered with some local pharmacies to make it easy for them," Hallam said.

He said international students can also start their theory courses out of the country.

"But we do not have a mandatory on-campus vaccination policy to start this semester, so once they clear their isolation requirements from the federal government and the provincial government, then they follow our protocols that they need to enter campus."

It's a similar situation at the University of Waterloo.

Amelia Burton, international student experience manager, said the university is following the advice of public health. 

"Individuals that are coming to Canada that have received one or two doses of a non-health-Canada-authorized vaccine should be offered one additional dose of an mRNA vaccine soon upon arrival in Canada," Burton said. 

"They can do that either at our on-campus vaccine centres or their nearest clinic as long as it is 28 days after their last vaccination."

Vaccine mandate 'unlawful': open letter

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

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

At a media briefing Friday, Waterloo 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."

With files from Melissa Galevski and Paula Duhatschek