As more and more Canadian post-secondary institutions require staff and students to be fully vaccinated to attend in-person activities this fall, the Brandon University Faculty Association is asking its administration to follow suit.
According to a Monday morning news release, this motion to endorse a local vaccine mandate was passed late last week by BUFA’s executive, who represent more than 250 staff at Brandon University.
"We believe that the health and safety of students, staff and faculty are of paramount importance to the Brandon University community," BUFA president Gautam Srivastava said in this release. "We believe that this is a reasonable step we can take to ensure as normal a return to campus life as we can expect during the fall term."
In a followup interview with the Sun, Srivastava went on to clarify that BUFA’s proposed vaccine mandate would not be applied across the board, with exceptions being made for individuals with medical exemptions or certain international students.
"There may be cases of students who are coming from overseas that may have vaccination inequalities or poor access to vaccines," he said, mentioning that these pupils could be given a grace period to receive their shots.
This motion from BUFA comes 13 days after representatives of the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations called for a similar vaccine mandate, arguing that the looming fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic poses a major threat to staff and students across the province.
In early August, only a few post-secondary schools in Canada had established vaccine requirements for the coming fall semester, with Seneca College in Ontario being one of the most high-profile examples.
However, within the last two weeks, a number of institutions have since followed Seneca’s lead, including the University of Regina, Queen’s University, Western University, the University of Waterloo, Carleton University, the University of Ottawa and the University of Saskatchewan.
Despite this trend, the BU administration has not committed to instituting a mandatory vaccine policy as of yet.
On Monday afternoon, school communications director Grant Hamilton told the Sun that BU is still 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. Masks will also be required for in-person activities on campus.
However, Hamilton said the BU administration is still strongly encouraging staff and students to get vaccinated as soon as possible, mentioning that more than 1,000 people have been fully vaccinated through BU’s "Every Shot is a Winning Shot" incentive program so far.
"We are keeping an eye on the evolving science and the evolving situation, and we’ll see what the rest of fall looks like," he said.
Earlier this month, BU president David Docherty also told the Sun that establishing a mandatory vaccine policy this late in the year wouldn’t be logistically feasible for the beginning of the fall semester.
However, Srivastava said on Monday that BUFA is more than willing to work with the administration to come up with a later time when their proposed vaccine policy could come into effect.
"If logistics are the reason, let’s move the date a little bit," he said.
"Let’s say Oct. 1 or let’s say Sept. 25, something that gives them a better chance to implement something like this."
When asked about this topic during a Monday afternoon technical briefing, Manitoba’s Vaccine Implementation Task Force medical lead Dr. Joss Reimer said that the province still doesn’t have any plans to mandate vaccines at post-secondary schools this fall.
However, Reimer also mentioned that institutions like BU are free to establish these policies themselves if they believe it is in the best interest of their staff and students.
"And we know that young people, right now, have lower vaccine uptake rates than older people, so we do worry that in some of these settings we might see outbreaks," she said.
"We strongly encourage students to get vaccinated as soon as possible, at whatever location is most convenient for them."
A representative from Assiniboine Community College told the Sun in an email that their school administration also isn’t considering a mandatory immunization policy right now.