University of Alberta’s COVID-19 vaccination plan relies on honour system with random checks

Click to play video: 'University of Alberta’s COVID-19 vaccination plan relies on honour system with random checks'
University of Alberta’s COVID-19 vaccination plan relies on honour system with random checks
The University of Alberta has explained how its COVID-19 vaccination requirements and testing program will work. As Fletcher Kent explains, staff and students must soon declare they've been vaccinated or receive weekly negative COVID tests – Aug 26, 2021

The University of Alberta says it will rely on the honour system with random checks to make sure its more than 50,000 staff and students are either vaccinated or don’t have COVID-19.

Earlier this month, the institution announced it would alter its back-to-class plan and require masks on-campus. It also indicated students and staff would either have to prove they had been vaccinated or take a regular rapid COVID test.

Click to play video: 'Universities of Alberta, Calgary and Lethbridge update COVID-19 policies'
Universities of Alberta, Calgary and Lethbridge update COVID-19 policies

On Wednesday, the U of A revealed more details on how the plan will work.

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Emails are going out to everybody who regularly attends any of the university’s campuses. Students and staff will have to indicate if they’ve been vaccinated.

Some of those who say they have received their shots will be required to provide proof. Those who say they are unvaccinated will need to take weekly, self-administered rapid COVID-19 tests, which are provided free of charge to the university through Alberta Health’s rapid testing program.

Kevin Friese is the U of A’s assistant dean of students and heads the COVID response team.

“Students, faculty and staff will not be required to show proof of vaccination upon entering places like classrooms, labs and work spaces.”

However, Friese says if the university asks for proof and the employee or students cannot provide it, there could be consequences.

“Similar to other U of A policies, any student, faculty, or staff member who does not comply with the university’s policies and procedures – and who does not qualify for an accommodation on medical or other protected grounds – will be subject to disciplinary action based on our code of student behavior and employment agreements.”

The university’s initial back-to-school plan did not require masks, testing or vaccinations. Students and staff at the time said they were upset and many felt they could be unsafe in class, particularly with the Delta variant’s rapid spread.

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Student and staff organizations say this latest plan largely satisfies them.

“I think the most positive thing here is that it seems that the university is actually listening,” said the president of the U of A’s Association of Academic Staff.

Acuna supports the vaccination requirements and isn’t too concerned that the plan relies on declarations. The random checks should make people think twice.

“We’re talking about a university. I think most people will declare earnestly or honestly. This adds an extra level for people who were thinking they might be able to get away with falsely claiming they’ve been vaccinated when they haven’t.”

“All those things really increase the probability that we will be dealing with honest and truthful declarations from folks.”

Click to play video: 'Universities of Alberta, Calgary, Lethbridge to require unvaccinated students, staff to undergo rapid COVID-19 testing'
Universities of Alberta, Calgary, Lethbridge to require unvaccinated students, staff to undergo rapid COVID-19 testing

Students’ Union president Rowan Ley agrees.

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“It does keep people honest because you don’t want the chance of being found out as having lied and being expelled.”

The university’s plan still concerns some groups. The head of the U of A’s Non-Academic Staff Association says it still has questions.

“Even with the new information released yesterday, we still have a number of questions about the implementation of the program, including how enforcement will be handled, how visitors to campus will be screened, and how data will be managed.

“The university has developed what seems like a complicated system and because of the late start, it doesn’t have a lot of time to implement it properly before students and staff return next week, and that gives us concern,” president Jillian Pratt said.

The university assures those concerned that the declarations will remain confidential. University administration will be regularly in touch with those who say they’re unvaccinated to ensure there’s testing compliance.

Some details of the plan have yet to be finalized, like policies for visitors. The U of A says it will share more details on that soon.

Rowan Ley says the plan may not be perfect but it makes him and other students feel much more comfortable returning to campus this fall.

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He adds the broader COVID-19 strategy isn’t just about rules and enforcement. He says the end goal needs to be to ensure as many people as possible are vaccinated. The university’s vaccination strategy is what he calls “the stick.” The Students’ Union is offering “the carrot.”

The Students’ Union received donations and support from other campus organizations and will hold its own vaccination lottery. Vaccinated students are eligible for a grand prize of free tuition. Ley says the lottery and the university’s requirements are related.

“We’d like to get those rates well over 90 per cent. So I hope that between accountability measures for folks who unfortunately don’t take this seriously and rewards or people who do, we’ll be able to get well up there.”

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