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What are the vaccination policies at Ontario post-secondary schools? Here's what you need to know

COVID-19 vaccine policies at universities and colleges vary widely across Ontario with just weeks to go before classes begin, with some requiring students on campus to be fully vaccinated, while others are asking for proof of immunization status. 

University of Ottawa, Queen's University, U of T among schools mandating vaccines

A vaccine clinic at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus on June, 13 2021. (Robert Krbavac/CBC)

After almost two years of remote learning, the University of Toronto, Queen's University and several other Ontario post-secondary institutions have announced different COVID-19 vaccine mandates ahead of the upcoming school year — with some creating policies requiring students on campus to be fully vaccinated, while others are asking for proof of immunization status. 

The University of Ottawa says students, staff and faculty, along with anyone visiting campus will be required to have had at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 7 and be fully vaccinated by Oct. 15. There are exemptions for people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons or other grounds recognized by the province's human rights code. 

Ontario Tech University in Oshawa says it's giving people until Oct. 17 to receive their second vaccination.

On Wednesday, U of T announced it will "require all those intending to be on campus be fully vaccinated."

Those who are not immunized will still be allowed on U of T grounds, but need to have a negative test within 72 hours of going to campus and complete rapid screening tests twice a week.

'Smoke and mirrors'

But some U of T faculty members have criticized the school's vaccine policy. They're concerned that only students living in residence and those participating in activities such as varsity sports and music performances are required to show an identifiable proof of vaccination.

Everyone else will have to "self-declare" their vaccination status using a screening app.

Terezia Zoric, the president of the U of T faculty association, is bemoaning the policy as a "public relations exercise" that essentially amounts to "smoke and mirrors."

"All you have to do is go on a website and check whether you're vaccinated or not," she told CBC News.

"My members are disappointed, frustrated and even outraged," she said. "What's being sold is essentially a public relations exercise, saying they should trust what people have self declared."

Zoric says the "vast majority" of the faculty association members appear to support a vaccine passport, with exceptions for those who can't be vaccinated. 

U of T responds

In a statement to CBC News, U of T wrote, "In the absence of a legal framework and supporting tools like a digital vaccination record or passport, we are requiring self-declaration with additional safety measures like rapid screening for those who are not fully vaccinated."

There is no provincial directive that tells colleges and universities how to mandate vaccination. 

"Publicly assisted Ontario colleges and universities are autonomous legal entities fully responsible for both academic and administrative matters," the Ministry of Colleges and Universities wrote to CBC News. 

"We know that Ontario post secondary institutions remain committed to following rules set out by the Chief Medical Officer of Health, local medical officer of health and their local bylaw officials. To keep students, faculty and staff safe, every school in Ontario has a program in place approved by their local medical officer of health."

Almost 60 per cent of Ontarians aged 18 to 90 are fully vaccinated, according to provincial data.

Some universities' vaccine policies and how they vary

  • At Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., students, staff, faculty and visitors need to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 7. The school hasn't said if it will require people to prove their vaccination status.
  • Carleton University in Ottawa will require everyone to prove their vaccination status or participate in rapid testing for COVID-19
  • Western University, in London, Ont., is requiring proof of vaccination on campus. People who are not vaccinated must be tested for COVID-19 twice a week. 
  • The University of Windsor will require all staff, faculty and students to have at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 1 and be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1. It says everyone must "declare" their vaccination status but has yet  to provide detail on how that will be done.

Toronto's York University announced Thursday that it will "require all community members and visitors on our campuses this fall to be vaccinated against COVID-19."

Ryerson University, also in Toronto, announced Friday it will require proof of vaccination starting Sept. 7. 

Those who are not fully vaccinated or don't want to share their vaccination status will have to be tested for COVID-19.

Details on how people can prove their vaccination status to the university are coming shortly, Ryerson's website states.

Seneca College has also made it clear that proof is needed to return to campus.

All students and staff have to be fully immunized if they want to come on campus and live in student residence. People will have to upload their vaccine administration receipt on the community college's app.

Those who are not vaccinated or require accommodation may still be barred from campus.

Aidan D'Souza, a student at Seneca, says he is "very happy" about the school's mandatory vaccine policy.

"When I heard about this, I also realized that I have grandparents, my mom and dad that I have to protect as well," D'Souza said.

"When you're going into a post secondary institution, you're bringing it back to the community."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Yasmine Ghania is a reporter for CBC Saskatchewan, currently based in Saskatoon.

With files from Adam Carter and Kirthana Sasitharan

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