Western-affiliated ethics prof says she faces 'imminent dismissal' for refusing COVID-19 vaccine

An ethics professor who teaches at a college affiliated with Western University says she faces "imminent dismissal" from her job of 20 years unless she is vaccinated for COVID-19.

Critic says Julie Ponesse's expertise in ethics doesn't include vaccines or infections diseases

Julie Ponesse, who teaches at Western University affiliated Huron College, says she faces 'imminent dismissal' unless she gets vaccinated for COVID-19. (Facebook)

An ethics professor at Western University affiliated Huron University College says she faces "imminent dismissal" unless she is vaccinated for COVID-19.

Julie Ponesse appeared in a video posted to Facebook Tuesday saying she cannot comply with a vaccination order as a matter of principle which clashes with her role as a professor of ethics. 

"I am facing imminent dismissal after 20 years on the job because I will not submit to having an experimental vaccine injected into my body," she said. "It's ethically wrong to coerce someone to take a vaccine."

Ponesse says she's been told by Huron to "be vaccinated immediately or not report for work."

She calls the COVID-19 vaccine "an experimental medical procedure" and says the school's vaccination mandate is at odds with her role to teach students to think critically. 

"There are questions about how well [vaccines] work," she writes. "Nobody's promising that I won't get COVID or transmit COVID if I get the vaccine. I'm entitled to make choices about what does and does not enter my body, regardless of my reasons. If I'm allowed back into my university, it's my job to teach my students that this is wrong."

Citing privacy rules, Huron University College spokesperson Drew Davidson would not confirm that Ponesse has been threatened with dismissal. 

"While I can't comment on individual HR matters, I can confirm to you that at this time, no one at Huron has been dismissed as a result of this policy," she said. 

In a statement Huron College repeated the school's vaccination policy and said those who do not submit proof of vaccination "will not be allowed on campus."

Critic responds

Ponesse spoke to CBC News on Tuesday and repeated her concerns about the vaccine, and said she worries governments are ignoring other ways to curb the spread of COVID-19.

"We will only do better if we take a more comprehensive look at all the evidence that's on the table," she said. 

Maxwell Smith is a bio ethicist and assistant professor in the faculty of health sciences at Western University. He closely followed Ponesse's comments and the debate it triggered.

He said Ponesse's background in ethics doesn't get around the fact that she's not an expert in communicable diseases. 

"She's not an authority, nor does it appear that she has expertise in virology, immunology and the vaccines because she's clearly gotten those facts wrong," he said. 

Doctors who advise Canadian governments at every level on COVID-19 have said the COVID-19 vaccines are the most effective way to avoid transmission of a virus that has killed more than 27,000 Canadians. 

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam released modelling last week that warns Canada could see up to 15,000 cases per day by the end of the month if the rate of vaccination does not increase.

Campus policy

In mid-August, Western and its affiliated colleges moved to require proof of vaccination for students, staff and faculty who plan to be on campus this fall. Most other Ontario universities have brought in similar vaccination mandates.

Western updated its policy on Aug. 25, eliminating regular testing as an option in lieu of vaccinations. 

Western's policy follows recommendations by Ontario's council of medical officers calling for mandatory vaccinations in all post-secondary institutions in the province. Under Western's policy, only those with a medical or Ontario Human Rights Code exemption are eligible for the regular, twice-a-week testing in order to be physically on campus this fall.