U of Regina students happy to see vaccine requirement but fear international students may face challenges

On Friday, the University of Regina announced that on-campus faculty, staff and students must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1.

University says on-campus faculty, staff and students must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1.

The University of Regina will require all on-campus staff, faculty and students to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1. (Kevin O'Connor/CBC)

A pair of University of Regina students say they're happy the school is making COVID-19 vaccines mandatory on campus but more information and support are needed for international students.

On Friday, the university announced that on-campus faculty, staff and students must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1.

The announcement came after some other Canadian universities announced mandatory vaccination policies for the fall semester.

That includes the University of Saskatchewan, which says proof of full vaccination will be required by Oct. 18. Those who are unable or unwilling to get vaccinated will have to provide regular and frequent negative COVID-19 test results.

Emily Lints, a fourth-year U of R English student, said she supports a vaccine mandate but recognizes that others may not.

"I really do think it is the best decision. I know personally I would feel a lot safer coming back to campus in the fall and in the winter with vaccines mandated," said Lints, who is also working at the university for the summer.

Lints said while she's in good health, she has family members who are immunocompromised and therefore more vulnerable to COVID-19.

To be extra careful she's taking most of her fall classes online, although she will be on campus sporadically.

"I was a little bit nervous about going and being in big crowds, like in the Riddell Centre and things like that," she said.

"But with vaccines fully mandated I think that I feel a lot more comfortable going and sitting in a lot of the common areas and things like that again."

Not having to worry as much about her physical safety will also help her mental health, she said.

"I can focus more [on] my mental health and focus more on my classes instead of being worried about those that I'm sitting around and whether or not they've been vaccinated."

Challenges for international students

Gurjinder Lehal, a third-year international student from India who is studying business and theatre at the U of Regina, also approves of the university's vaccination requirement.

He feels a vaccine mandate on campus doesn't just protect staff and students, but it also helps protect the family and friends of people who spend time on campus.

However, he said international students arriving in Saskatchewan for the first time may run into some challenges.

There is a 28-day waiting period between the first and second dose. That means international students who arrive in September but aren't fully vaccinated with a Health Canada-approved vaccine likely won't make the Oct. 1 deadline to be fully vaccinated.

"They are looking for in-person classes and if they are not going to have that in-person experience, there will be a problem," he said.

Lehal said it's crucial for the university to continue offering online options while international students wait to be fully vaccinated.

It should also offer as much guidance and assistance as possible to provide international students the experience they came for, he said — especially since the U of R often encourages international students to study there.

"I believe that universities have a greater responsibility to co-operate with those students who are coming from different countries and work with them closely so that there [isn't] a problem when they come here."

Lints, meanwhile, has friends who are international students and also hopes for more information on how the mandate could effect them.

The U of R's website says the school will provide additional information to faculty, staff and students about vaccination requirements in the coming days.

U of S will help international students get vaccinated

Meanwhile, the University of Saskatchewan Students' Union told CBC News on Friday that it approves of mandatory vaccines on-campus, but recognizes that there will be some challenges for some international students there as well.

"At the end of the day, students' education and campus experience is really important, so I want the university to be mindful of the diverse experiences of students," said student union president Tasnim Jaisee.

Dr. Darcy Marciniuk, a professor of respirology and the chair of the U of S pandemic response and recovery team, says the school's goal is to give everyone the opportunity to get vaccinated, including international students.

If someone attending the university has been given a vaccine in their home country that isn't approved by Health Canada, Marciniuk said they will be connected with public health to see if additional shots or boosters may be required.

While many international students may not yet have provincial health cards, the cards are not required to get a vaccine, the province says.

The university will require proof of a first vaccine dose by Sept. 7 and proof of a second by Oct. 18.

With files from Laura Sciarpelletti