University of Ottawa mandates COVID-19 vaccines for students living on campus

Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is now mandatory for students planning to live at University of Ottawa residences in the upcoming academic year.

Carleton University and Algonquin College take different approach by encouraging, not requiring vaccination

University of Ottawa students in front of Tabaret Hall in September 2019. The university is implementing a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy for students living in on-campus residences. (Ian Black/CBC)

Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is now mandatory for students planning to live at University of Ottawa residences in the upcoming academic year.

The university's website says domestic students must provide proof of vaccination and receive at least one dose of a Health Canada-approved COVID-19 vaccine before their move-in date, or within two weeks of moving in if they arrive unvaccinated.

Students who have had one dose must get their second shot within the timeframe recommended by Ottawa Public Health (OPH). 

For international students, any vaccine approved by the World Health Organization will be accepted, although students who require a second shot must get one authorized in Canada.

While there are exceptions for health-related reasons or "grounds protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code," anyone who refuses to get vaccinated without an approved accommodation can have their residence agreement terminated, the university says. 

"The university is implementing extensive precautionary measures to offer a safe learning environment," said spokesperson Patrick Charette in an emailed statement.

"Medical and health professionals are clear that vaccination is the most effective means of protecting people and those around them."

The move comes amid an ongoing debate over whether governments, businesses, workplaces and other institutions should mandate immunization.

Armaan Singh Kheppar, a representative with the University of Ottawa Students' Union, said his peers are generally supportive of mandatory vaccinations.

"[It would] help ensure that students are as safe as possible," said Kheppar.

Encouraged at Carleton, Algonquin

Carleton University and Algonquin College are taking a different approach. Those schools currently aren't requiring students get vaccinated to live on campus, but are strongly encouraging them to get both shots.

Students living in shared accommodations can request a roommate who is vaccinated, according to Carleton's website, but the university says it can't guarantee all requests will be granted. 

By mandating vaccination for on-campus student residents, the University of Ottawa is following in the footsteps of a number of Ontario post-secondary schools, including the University of TorontoWestern University and Fanshawe College in London, Trent University in Peterborough, and Durham College in Oshawa. 

Seneca College is going a step further by restricting access to campus to only students and employees who are immunized. Hundreds of universities and colleges across the U.S. have also made full vaccination compulsory for all those returning to campus. 

The University of Ottawa says students must provide proof that they've been vaccinated with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine before their move-in date, or within two weeks of moving in if they arrive unvaccinated. (CBC)

The Ontario government, which has jurisdiction over education, hasn't instituted a similar policy provincewide.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Minister of Colleges and Universities Jill Dunlop said colleges and universities that receive provincial funding are independent and responsible for both academic and administrative matters.

"To keep students, faculty and staff safe, every school in Ontario has a program in place approved by their local medical officer of health," the statement said.

Don't love it but justifiable, bioethicist says

At a media briefing on Wednesday, Ottawa's Deputy Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brent Moloughney wouldn't say if OPH supports mandatory vaccination policies. Instead, he said vaccination reduces some of the risks associated with the university setting.

"It fits some of those C's that we worry about ... in terms of potential for crowding, potential for people to be in a confined space, the opportunity for prolonged close contact," Moloughney said.

"In those sort of situations ... certainly we would be recommending as many people get vaccinated as possible."

WATCH | Bioethicist on mandating vaccines for students in residence

Can a university mandate vaccines for students living in residence?

2 years ago
Duration 0:39
Featured VideoDr. Kerry Bowman, bioethics professor at the University of Toronto, says requiring proof of vaccination for students living in residence, as the University of Ottawa is doing, may be ethically justified because the setting is defined as someone’s home.

Dr. Kerry Bowman, a bioethics professor at the University of Toronto, said mandating vaccines on campus raises a number of ethical concerns and has the possibility to divide people.

"I don't love it. But a university residence is essentially a person's home, so that really does change the equation," said Bowman.

"People need to have an element of safety within that environment, so it's more justifiable."

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has raised concerns that mandatory vaccination policies undermine personal choice.

Cara Faith Zwibel, a lawyer with the association, told Global News that unvaccinated individuals are being discriminated against because of rules that limit their access to certain services.

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