Western University and affiliated colleges Brescia, Huron and King’s are requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for students, staff and faculty, as part of a new policy to further protect the campus community.
The university made the move after careful consultation with public health partners and faculty experts in medicine, law and ethics.
Those without proof of vaccination must be tested twice a week in order to be on campus.
“The health and safety of our community is our top priority – and it’s a shared effort,” said Sarah Prichard, acting provost and vice-president (academic). “Vaccination is our clearest path to a safe campus.”
The university is taking a further step for higher-risk activities by requiring vaccination for students on work and clinical placements, in music programs, as well as for varsity student-athletes, coaches and team staff. Exemptions will be provided on grounds protected by the Ontario Human Rights Code.
Western has already required that students in residence be vaccinated.
The Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) has endorsed Western’s approach.
“To support a safe return to campus this fall, the Middlesex-London Health Unit strongly supports all efforts to increase the uptake of COVID-19 vaccination,” said Christopher Mackie, medical officer of health at MLHU, in a letter to Western president Alan Shepard. “This includes policies that require all members of a post-secondary community who present to campus to be either fully vaccinated for COVID-19 or participate in a serial and frequent rapid COVID-19 testing program.”
With exceptions pertaining to human rights, Mackie said the MLHU is also “strongly supportive” of mandatory vaccination for those in higher risk environments on campus such as those the university has identified.
Western has continued to collect data to guide its efforts in limiting the spread of the virus.
The university conducted a survey of all students, faculty and staff in early August to gauge vaccination rates in the community. The survey found nearly 90 per cent of respondents are fully vaccinated, and more than half of those remaining plan to get their COVID-19 vaccines by September. This rate of vaccination is consistent among undergraduate student respondents. The survey was sent to over 62,000 members of Western’s community with a response rate of nearly 50 per cent.
“We are optimistic that in providing our campus community with the education and supports they need, we will increase vaccination rates even further,” Prichard said.
Western’s vaccination and testing centre is open to all university community members.
Western continues to require masks for all indoor activities and is implementing enhanced cleaning and health screening across campus. Ventilation systems in buildings are also being assessed and optimized throughout the summer.
The new policy comes at a time when other Canadian postsecondary institutions are taking steps to ensure their communities are vaccinated against COVID-19. Last week, the Council of Ontario Universities and Colleges called on the province to mandate vaccination of postsecondary students, faculty and staff.
“Achieving high rates of vaccination is one of the most important ways our community can be protected,” Prichard said. “We must be consistent across the province if we are to be truly successful in our collective public health efforts.”