Faculty members have called on their employers to require university staff and students to be immunized against COVID-19 to earn the privilege to visit campus this fall, but schools in Manitoba are sticking with the status quo.
On Tuesday, the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations issued a news release to put pressure on post-secondary institutions and the province to support a vaccine mandate.
"This is what has taken place at over 400 universities in the United States, and it is the safest, best and fastest way to get university operations back to normal in the face of a pandemic," said president Scott Forbes, who represents more than 1,500 employees at the University of Manitoba, University of Winnipeg, Brandon University, and Université de St. Boniface.
Forbes said Tuesday a mandate would both protect community health and speed up reopenings so institutions can sooner reap the economic benefits of parking revenue and other ancillary fees that have been affected by COVID-19 disruptions.
A growing number of Canadian post-secondary institutes is requiring students who will live in residence this fall to be immunized, but only Seneca College in Toronto has announced a widespread campus mandate for all of its staff and students.
Critics question the ethics of restricting rights and privacy implications of such a move, but Forbes counters that argument by questioning whether a school could be deemed liable for not protecting a community member who becomes severely ill.
Post-secondary institutions in Manitoba, meantime, continue to fall in line with the province’s stance on favouring encouragement over requirement. U of M, U of W, BU and USB all indicated Tuesday they are encouraging vaccination, but have no plans to require proof of it to attend classes.
Advanced Education Minister Wayne Ewasko was not made available for an interview Tuesday.
In a statement, the minister said the province understands students have had a difficult year due to the pandemic and strongly encourages everyone to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
"We will continue to work with our post-secondary partners and public health to best support our institutions, including the arrangement of vaccine clinics on campuses," wrote Ewasko.
As for mandates in elementary and secondary schools, the Manitoba Teachers’ Society has not come out with a firm stance on mandatory vaccinations. Union vice-president Nathan Martindale said Tuesday such a move would create "a whole host of different issues" for educators in regards to enforcement.
In the faculty association's release, U of M virologist Dr. Jason Kindrachuk called a vaccination mandate in the post-secondary sector "a reasonable precaution" to reduce the pandemic burden ahead of the fall term.
The association said it acknowledges that people with legitimate medical reasons should be exempt from a vaccination mandate and international students should have a grace period because of potential vaccine inequity.
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.