Nova Scotia

Dalhousie University switching to mandatory proof of vaccination for all staff, students

Dalhousie University said Wednesday it will start requiring full proof of COVID-19 vaccination from all faculty, staff and students for the winter term that begins in January.

Halifax university says only 20% of people who were supposed to show negative tests did so

Dalhousie had let about 400 people promise to take COVID-19 tests twice a week, but only 80 of them have actually been doing that. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

Dalhousie University said Wednesday it will start requiring full proof of COVID-19 vaccination from all faculty, staff and students in the winter term — but some are confused and angry the previous policy wasn't being enforced.

Most people on campus have provided proof of full vaccination. The university policy had been that people who didn't provide that proof had to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test twice a week. 

But the university said 80 per cent of the people that policy applies to haven't been doing that. Of the roughly 400 people who said they would use the testing program, about 80 actually did, Dalhousie spokesperson Janet Bryson told CBC News in an email Wednesday. 

"While we have been working through compliance measures to increase this percentage, it is one of several factors that have led us to consider a revised approach to the winter term," she said.

The university sent a memo Tuesday to alert people to the change. 

Staff could lose their jobs

She said more than 22,000 people on campus have provided proof of full vaccination.

But the memo said there are about 1,350 students who haven't registered their vaccination status through the Campus Check program. 

"For those who haven't, the transition to a requirement for proof of full vaccination will start in the coming weeks and continue through the winter term," she said. 

Bryson said after that transition, people who don't provide proof of vaccination won't be allowed to join on-campus classes or other activities.  

"Employees (faculty/staff) who do not register with Campus Check to provide proof of vaccination, or do not request accommodation, will face disciplinary consequences consistent with the terms of their contracts of employment (including collective agreements) up to and including termination of employment," Bryson said. 

Dalhousie said it will issue an update before the winter term starts. The release did not say whether any of the students who are unregistered or failed to report test results are still on campus.

Jocelyn Downie, one of the Dalhousie professors who pushed for the school's vaccine policy, said she was "shocked" the university has not been enforcing the policy they told staff and students was in place.

"We were misled about what was going on on campus, and especially in the context of public health, that's a very serious breach of trust," Downie told CBC's Information Morning on Thursday.

Downie said staff and students relied on the idea that they were walking onto a campus with a strict vaccine policy, which is especially important for those with young children or living with immunocompromised people.

"This was a very important decision to be making, and they needed to make it on the basis of full and accurate information, and they were denied that," Downie said.

The university must now try to rebuild trust with the community, Downie said. That could include showing what enforcement steps are being taken, or regular updates on how many people are turning in their test results.

"Give us reasons to trust the commitment to enforce. Just saying, 'We'll do this, trust us,' isn't sufficient because you failed to do it in the first place."

Faculty 'surprised and dismayed'

David Westwood, president-elect of the Dalhousie Faculty Association, said his members were "surprised and dismayed" to learn the policy had been so lax through the fall and that no apparent consequences had followed. 

"It didn't strike us, from the faculty association, that a change in policy was really necessary. It was really about ensuring the existing policy was being followed," he said.

"So our concern, from a health-and-safety perspective, is if our members and students are in classrooms and face-to-face contact, those people need to be assured that those in the room and those nearby to them have complied with existing policy to either be vaccinated, or to have demonstrated repeated negative test results."

Westwood said the fall term has gone well, with few outbreaks on campus. The faculty association wasn't told about the failure to comply with the current policy. 

He said the lack of a hard date start date for the new policy will likely cause confusion. The association wanted to see students provide proof of vaccination before signing up for winter courses, giving the start date as the first day of the winter term. 

"What we don't want to see is a situation where our members will be in the classroom and the vaccine mandate is not yet being enforced or complied with," he said. "That to us poses an unreasonable health-and-safety risk both to our members and to the students."


With files from Information Morning