Manitoba’s major universities and colleges have announced COVID-19 immunization mandates in a co-ordinated effort to make the public-health measure a requirement on campuses across the province.
Louis Riel first division poised to require workers be vaccinatedClick to Expand
Posted: 5:34 PM Aug. 19, 2021
Staff members in the Louis Riel School Division are slated to become the first public school employees in Manitoba to be mandated to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
The University of Manitoba, University of Winnipeg, Red River College, Canadian Mennonite University, Assiniboine Community College and the University College of the North announced students and staff must have two doses of vaccine to attend classes.
"It’s a message on a united front. A commitment to students, the faculty, and staff. It’s not about competing, who can do it first, it’s just about doing the right thing for Manitoba students and employees, and doing it together," said Jan Stewart, interim provost and vice-president academic at the U of W.
School leaders undertook extensive consultation with public health officials, legal experts, students, academics, staff and the department of advanced education, leading up to the Thursday bulletins.
Bioethicist Arthur Schafer said it was inevitable that local post-secondary institutes announced vaccine mandates before fall classes.
“While many details still have to be hashed out, this is the smart way forward.” – Brendan Scott, president of the U of M’s students union
"There was a very strong pressure from faculty, from staff, from students and, also, I think the fact that many other leading Canadian universities have already announced that they are requiring mandatory vaccination, was bound to establish a trend," said Schafer, founding director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the U of M.
Members of the U of M community are expected to have received their first dose of vaccine by Sept. 22 and their second before November. The school has yet to announce accommodation logistics for those who cannot be immunized or don't want a vaccine.
"While many details still have to be hashed out, this is the smart way forward," said Brendan Scott, president of the U of M’s students union.
A summer UMSU survey yielded overwhelming support for a vaccine mandate, he noted.
Recent U of W back-to-school polls also found thousands of students and employees — more than 90 per cent of whom indicated they are fully immunized — want compulsory immunization.
On the downtown campus, anyone who is authorized to visit must enter via "controlled access points" this fall and show proof of full vaccination within a specified time frame.
Staff, students and academics who are unvaccinated and provide medical verification will be exempt from the policy and permitted on campus. However, those who are simply unwilling to get a shot will have to continue with remote learning or show proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
The downtown campus will be closed to the public until at least 2022.
Red River College has unveiled its own tailored mandate, under which two doses of vaccine are required for students and employees to attend its campuses this fall. The college expects first doses to have been received by Sept. 10 and followup shots completed by Oct. 17.
College president Fred Meier said the measure will ensure students and staff can safely participate in "very fulsome" hands-on and applied learning activities this fall.
The college has indicated appropriate documentation is necessary for medical and religious or creed-based exemptions, although it is finalizing the details of its accommodation process.
"This is a good-news day," said Scott Forbes, president of the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations. "We’re delighted to see university administrations across the board doing the right thing."
The organization has been outspoken throughout the summer in its campaign to implement vaccine mandates on campuses. Forbes indicated the advocacy work is not quite done, however, given not all schools have matching mandates.
"This is a good–news day. We’re delighted to see university administrations across the board doing the right thing.” – Scott Forbes, president of the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations
Brandon University stopped short of announcing a strict requirement that all community members be immunized to access campus in the fall.
In a release Thursday, the university indicated it will not require vaccines, but they will be "strongly encouraged." Other schools, including the Université de Saint-Boniface, also continue to mull mandates.
Forbes, a biology professor at U of W, called his employer’s policy "the gold standard," since it relies on the province’s vaccine-card system.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.