Western University biology professor wants mandatory COVID-19 shots for return to campus

A Western University biology professor is pushing for mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for students returning to in-person classes this fall.

Only students staying in residence require at least one dose of vaccine

First-year students in masks at Western University's summer orientation in London, Ont., in 2020. (Colin Butler/CBC)

A Western University biology professor is pushing for mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for students and staff returning to campus for in-person learning this fall. 

The university issued a statement to CBC News Wednesday, saying it would not require students or staff returning to campus this fall to be vaccinated. 

"At this time, vaccines are only mandatory in our residences. All members of the campus community are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated as soon as they can," Marcia Staeyart, Western's executive director media relations wrote in an email Wednesday. 

In May, Western made it mandatory for all students living in on-campus residences to receive a single dose of vaccine when they return to campus in September. 

Prof calls on Western to follow Seneca's lead

Beth McDougall-Shackleton, a professor of biology and geology at the university, told CBC News Friday that Western should follow the lead of Seneca College, which announced earlier this month that all students and staff attending campus in-person must be vaccinated

University College is the most iconic building at the Western University campus in London, Ont. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

"Universities have a responsibility to be role models in how we respond to the pandemic. As workplaces and places of learning, we have a responsibility to keep everyone safe," she said. 

"We know the vaccines are safe and we know the vaccines are effective and at this point, we know what it would take to keep us all safe, it's just a matter of following the science."

McDougall-Shackleton said she believes the right for students and staff to work in a safe environment trumps the right of those who refuse to get the vaccine outside of medical or religious reasons. 

"I think choosing not to be vaccinated has effects beyond the individual, it affects the whole community."

"The right of students to learn in a safe environment and faculty to work in a safe environment, that is a more fundamental right than the perceived right of a vocal minority to disregard evidence-based precautions." 

Faculty union has no position on vaccines

The University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (UWOFA), the union representing the school's 1,500 faculty members and 50 librarians and archivists told CBC News Wednesday that it did not have a position on the issue. 

"We don't feel we can comment on the story," Vanessa Frank, a spokeswoman for UWOFA president Nigmendra Narain, said in an email. 

While the school's policy on vaccinations might not satisfy all critics, its requirement for students living in on-campus residents to have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine is endorsed by the London-Middlesex Health Unit

Western also said it plans to open on-campus vaccination clinics later this summer, where it encourages all members of the campus community to become fully inoculated against the virus. 

During the last school year, the university battled a number of outbreaks inside its residences and this spring, accounted for one in five cases of the virus inside the city. 

Students were also pilloried by the city's mayor and the region's medical officer of health last fall for their role in an outbreak that was blamed on high-risk behaviour.