Saskatchewan

University of Regina student union concerned about privacy, cybersecurity with mandatory vaccines

The union president also said the university needs to be understanding of religious exemptions.

Union president also said university needs to be understanding of religious exemptions

The University of Regina is requiring people to be vaccinated by October 1, 2021 however the students' union is concerned about how private health information will be stored. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The University of Regina's announcement that vaccines will be mandatory for students and staff has the president of the student's union raising some concerns.

President Hannah Tait said the union is pleased with the mandate, because it's going to protect students coming back to campus, but that she's concerned about privacy around health information. 

"Our issue is not the actual collection of the private health information, but it's about how we're collecting it, how we are using it, how long we're going to keep it. That is all very important because people do deserve and have the right to privacy," Tait said in an interview with CBC News. 

Tait said the mandate should be implemented in a way that protects private information. For example, she said staff should be trained on handling information so no papers with health card numbers are left on tables or people's status isn't shared without their permission. 

"Then when we consider cybersecurity threats and stuff like that, it's important to realize that universities are already a target for cyber criminals," she said. "So we need to get this done quickly, but we need to get it done in a way that is going to protect students."

The University of Regina said it has established processes to ensure students' information is protected. It said it would follow the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and The Health Information Protection Act.

Staff members who have a role in collecting and managing information related to proof of vaccination will be trained accordingly, the university said. 

Hannah Tait is the president of the University of Regina Students' Union. (Submitted by University of Regina Students' Union)

Despite the concerns, Tait said the students she has interacted with are happy about the mandate, as people often know others who are vulnerable. Tait herself lives with a child under 12 who isn't eligible for a vaccine. 

"Some other people have raised concerns with immunocompromised individuals in their household. Some people have raised concerns with elderly," she said. "Making sure we can provide a safe space for students and in turn protect those most vulnerable in our community is really important."

Patience with religious exemptions, working through misinformation: union 

The university has said rapid tests will be available for those unable to get a vaccine. Tait said this is key for people with medical exemptions or those unable to be vaccinated before Oct. 1, when the mandate comes into effect. 

"Some international students are going to be arriving on campus and they'll say get the first vaccine and then they have that waiting period before they can get the second one," she said. "They won't actually be physically able to get both of those vaccines before attending campus."

There are also people uncertain about how the vaccine aligns with their religious practice, Tait said. The vast majority of religious leaders have approved or promoted vaccines, but Tait said there's still some uncertainty. 

"There has been some misinformation online, and so that's something that we're battling," Tait said. "It is a really complex situation. And when you're dealing with someone's religious practices, we do have to be really sensitive."

For example, misinformation saying vaccines contain matter from aborted fetuses has caused some religious people to be hesitant to get a vaccine, even though it's false. Tait is calling for patience as the union works to combat misinformation and help people get vaccinated on their own time.

The university said it has already indicated that exemptions and accommodations for the vaccine may be granted for verifiable medical, religious and creed-based reasons under The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code.

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