With the 2021-22 post-secondary school year quickly approaching, the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations is urging the province to implement mandatory vaccine requirements for staff and students who are attending in-person activities this fall.
According to a Tuesday morning news release, MOFA recently passed this unanimous motion in the hopes of influencing university administrations to be proactive and prevent the further spread of COVID-19.
"With a fourth wave looming, and a highly transmissible delta variant in the community, a mandatory vaccination policy is the prudent move," MOFA president Scott Forbes said in Tuesday’s release.
MOFA representatives acknowledged that this mandatory vaccine policy should come with some exceptions, proposing a "science-based grace period" for international students who didn’t have the time or the opportunity to get fully vaccinated before arriving in Manitoba.
The organization believes that students or staff with certain medical conditions should also be exempt from this policy.
This MOFA motion comes after hundreds of post-secondary institutions in the United States have already implemented similar mandatory vaccine requirements, including such prestigious schools as Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley.
While this approach hasn’t been widely adopted here in Canada, Seneca College officials announced in mid-July that vaccinations are required for students and employees looking to return to their Toronto, York Region and Peterborough campuses this fall.
University of Manitoba assistant professor Jason Kindrachuk, who specializes in viral pathogenesis, characterizes MOFA’s motion as a "reasonable precaution," especially given the success vaccinations have had in the fight against COVID thus far.
"I hope that by calling for this approach with time before the beginning of the term that our administrations and provincial government can take a science-based approach as they support our universities in the return to in-person learning," Kindrachuk said in Tuesday’s news release.
MOFA currently represents around 1,500 academics, with its members being made up of representatives from Brandon University, Université de Saint-Boniface, University of Manitoba and University of Winnipeg.
Three members of the Brandon University Faculty Association currently sit on MOFA’s council, according to the group’s official website.
However, BUFA president Gautam Srivastava told the Sun on Tuesday that the union itself still hasn’t officially endorsed mandatory vaccinations for staff and students, since its executive hasn’t had time to properly discuss the matter in full.
"What I will tell you is that, with (the BU administration), we’re working on a memorandum of understanding for the fall term right now, which we haven’t released yet," Srivastava said over the phone.
"There’s a bunch of issues that we’ve pinpointed that would need to go into the memorandum of understanding for the fall, especially because we are doing kind of a mixed learning environment."
With that being said, BU president David Docherty told the Sun that the school isn’t going to adopt any mandatory vaccine policy for staff or students, since doing so at this point wouldn’t give them enough time to properly prepare for the fall semester.
"Had the province said ‘yes, you can require vaccinations’ two months ago, we might have had time to do it," Docherty said. "But it isn’t really feasible to do it right away."
But the BU president is still encouraging staff and students to get vaccinated as soon as possible, since school officials are preparing for in-person learning to take place this fall for classes that don’t exceed 25 people and can provide up to two metres of physical distancing.
All other classes will take place online.
"We’re hopeful that we’re going to be full-on come January," Docherty said.
When asked about mandatory vaccine policies during a Tuesday news conference, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin replied by saying that the province doesn’t have any plans to mandate vaccines at post-secondary schools for the fall.
"But certainly … as we move to public health recommendations from orders, we may see certain businesses or organizations doing things that they feel protects their patrons and employees the most," he said.
Roussin also mentioned that the province’s official back-to-school plan will be unveiled sometime later this week.
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