Faculty groups want mandatory vaccines for students, staff heading to Manitoba universities

The Manitoba government and university administrators should implement mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for students and staff attending provincial universities this fall, a faculty organization says.

'With a fourth wave looming,' mandatory vaccination policy is prudent, faculty organization says

The University of Winnipeg, pictured, the University of Manitoba, St. Boniface University, University College of the North, Brandon University, Assiniboine Community College and Red River College have said they will highly encourage people to be double vaccinated but it will not be mandatory. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

The Manitoba government and university administrators are being urged to require COVID-19 vaccination for students and staff attending provincial universities this fall.

The Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations (MOFA) said on Tuesday it has passed a unanimous motion calling for "decisive action" to keep faculty, staff, students and their families safe when classes resume in fall.

More than 400 U.S. universities and colleges have implemented mandatory vaccine policies, while those in Canada have been wrestling with the controversial idea.

"Our universities and provincial government have an opportunity to be proactive in this instance," MOFA president Dr. Scott Forbes said in a news release.

The Manitoba government had already implemented vaccine requirements for individuals going to large-scale sporting events, movie theatres and restaurant interiors with people outside their immediate household, he said.

Some of those requirements will be scaled back this weekend in anticipation of Manitoba hitting its next immunization uptake targets nearly a month in advance, according to public health officials on Tuesday.

"It really makes no sense to exclude universities and colleges when we are insisting on mandatory vaccination elsewhere, and from a legal perspective, it is quite clear that such a move is permissible," Forbes said in the release.

"With a fourth wave looming, and a highly transmissible delta variant in the community, a mandatory vaccination policy is the prudent move."

Manitoba's universities and colleges, when contacted by CBC News in early July, said they would not make vaccinations compulsory when the fall term starts. 

All of the schools — University of Manitoba, University of Winnipeg, St. Boniface University, University College of the North, Brandon University, Assiniboine Community College and Red River College — said full vaccination is highly encouraged but not mandatory.

The schools also said they intend to operate a blended model of in-person and remote learning for the fall term. 

"The University of Manitoba strongly encourages all UM community members to get vaccinated, but is not requiring proof of vaccination outside of public health regulations," a U of M spokespersons said Tuesday.

The University of Manitoba said it's not 'requiring proof of vaccination' outside the bounds of existing public health measures. (Dana Hatherly/CBC)

The University of Winnipeg also said Tuesday it hasn't changed its plans, though it encourages those in the post-secondary school system to get protected heading into the 2021-22 academic year.

"We strongly encourage all faculty, staff and students to get vaccinated if they have not already done so," the statement reads.

The U of W is planning an on-campus vaccination clinic Aug. 11 for students, staff and their families.

Wiggle room for legitimate reasons: MOFA

MOFA said in its news release that there are complexities that come with a call for mandatory vaccination and anyone with legitimate medical reasons should be exempted.

The organization also said international students may face difficulties because of vaccine inequity, and proposes "a science-based grace period" for them so they have ample time to access vaccines upon their arrival in Manitoba.

The California Institute of Technology (Caltech), the University of California-Berkeley and Harvard University are among the U.S. post-secondary schools that require vaccination.

In Canada, the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association has called for mandatory vaccination, and Seneca College requires vaccination for all in-person activities.

MOFA represents over 1,500 faculty, instructors and academic staff from the U of W, U of M, Brandon University and St. Boniface University.

With files from Samantha Samson