Expert says campus vaccine plans overdue — and here’s what they should look like

Click to play video: 'N.B. students react to campus vaccination policies'
N.B. students react to campus vaccination policies
WATCH: N.B. students react to campus vaccination policies – Aug 21, 2021

The Université de Moncton is the most recent post-secondary school in New Brunswick to announce students and staff on campus will need to be fully vaccinated or submit to frequent COVID-19 testing.

A plan, one expert says, should be announced for campuses Canada-wide by now.

“They have to do that yesterday,” says Jocelyn Downie, a professor at Dalhousie University’s Health Law Institute.

“Every post-secondary institution – universities and colleges – throughout the country should announce a proper protection plan.”

READ MORE: More Atlantic universities roll out COVID-19 vaccination policies

Downie says these plans need to be effectively communicated to those heading to campus and should include four components.

  • Required proof of vaccination or regular negative tests,
  • Vaccination readily accessible,
  • Testing available to everybody,
  • and support for age-appropriate and culturally competent education programs.

That last component is to dispel distrust of the healthcare system.

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“And it’s a warranted distrust among some communities,” says Downie.

She says reframing the narrative around these plans is important, too, such as opting for proof of vaccination or a negative test rather than a full-on “vaccine mandate.”

“It’s not a vaccine mandate,” she says.

“It does leave people with the freedom to not have a vaccine but it doesn’t allow them to come onto campus and infect others.”

The term mandate, Downie says, is meeting resistance before the rules are actually understood.

She says the goal of the plan needs to be spelled out, with its path and the individual’s options made clear.

“We could do harm to our public health ability to respond to infectious diseases through vaccines,” she says, “it’s not just COVID, vaccines are a huge component of public health.”

“If you use this very blunt instrument of ‘vaccine mandate’ without good explanation and education, people may come to distrust vaccines writ large,” says Downie.

Returning UdeM student Pierre Duguay-Boudreau tells Global News the university’s plan sounds good to him.

“In my circle of friends, it was a popular decision,” he says.

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“Personally, I felt that was as well. I haven’t heard many complaints so far.”

Returning UdeM student Pierre Duguay-Boudreau says he’s excited to get back to campus. VIA Zoom

Duguay-Boudreau has both his shots and is looking forward to being back on campus after a year mostly spent behind the screen.

“I’m excited about this year,” he says.

“There’s going to be two full groups, first years and second years, who will get their first year on campus.”

He says he’s looking forward to returning to the campus bar.

“That’s where most of my student loans went.”

UdeM’s plan has a month-long grace period, kicking in October 15.

Professor Downie says it’s important for these institutions to get the plans in place sooner rather than later, lest the communities get hit hard by the anticipated fourth wave of the virus this fall.

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“Let’s not have universities and colleges contributing in a really negative way to the size of that fourth wave,” she says.

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