COVID-19: Vaccination required for Western University students in residence

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Students of Western University and its affiliated colleges living in residence will be required to have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as part of the university’s plans to return to full in-person classes.

On Thursday, the university announced that students will be asked to get vaccinated before they arrive. Failing that, they “will have 14 days following their move-in date to get vaccinated on campus.”

Those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or “other protected grounds under the Ontario Human Rights Code” can request accommodation.

Chris Alleyne, Western University’s associate vice-president of housing and ancillary services, says the institution wanted to make the announcement now while prospective first-year students are making final decisions about which school to go to and whether to live in residence.

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“We wanted to ensure that we also had the word out to give them enough notice prior to coming in September, but also to make an informed choice that, ‘Hey, we’ve got you covered. We’re prioritizing your health and safety for the fall,'” he told Global News.

“We wanted to get that word out to our students while they were making these important decisions.”

The university adds that the Middlesex-London Health Unit has endorsed the plan.

A letter to university president Alan Shepard from medical officer of health Dr. Chris Mackie reads that “mandating vaccine for residents of post-secondary residences would substantially increase vaccine uptake.”

In the letter, Mackie even suggested that the university “consider making proof of vaccination against COVID-19 (or proof of medical exemption) mandatory for all residents of your residences.”

When asked on Thursday afternoon about potential civil liberties-related concerns, Mackie referenced the “long and well-tested history of requiring vaccinations for schools in Ontario” and the Immunization of School Pupils Act.

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“The other side of that rights issue is that students deserve a safe place to learn. And if they’re having to go to classes with people that are not vaccinated and potentially putting them at risk of developing COVID, that’s a serious infringement on their right.”

Mackie says the health unit has also encouraged Fanshawe College to require students in its residences to be vaccinated.

“I know they’re considering that recommendation seriously. We haven’t heard if they have made a determination yet.”

Students expecting to live on campus will receive more information “in the coming days,” according to the university.

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“The health of our community is a shared responsibility,” says Shepard.

“We’re asking students to play an important role in keeping themselves, their friends and classmates, and our community safe and healthy.”

Outside of those living in residence, the university is also “strongly encouraging all members of the campus community to get vaccinated as soon as they can.”

An on-campus vaccination and testing clinic will open later this summer.

“We want to make this as seamless and accessible as possible for our students,” says Alleyne.

The university says it will continue with a “wide range” of health and safety measures as it prepares for the fall term, including: “masking and self-screening requirements, enhanced cleaning and ventilation in buildings, an on-campus testing and vaccination centre, and physical distancing as required.”

Shepard adds that plans could change depending on provincial or public health requirements.

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