Halfway into the first in-person university semester since the pandemic began, some faculty and staff members at B.C.’s biggest universities say they don’t know whether they and their students are being protected against COVID-19 spread because the schools are not following through on plans to ensure no one comes to class infected.
Weeks after universities in Ontario announced that students and faculty would be required to be vaccinated to attend classes, British Columbia schools brought in their vaccine and testing requirement policy. But two major universities confirm their audits to verify vaccination status have not begun.
Meanwhile, several universities in Ontario are moving to bar unvaccinated students from campus and a Calgary school deregistered 11 students for not declaring their vaccination status.
The situation has frustrated some faculty and staff members at University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University.
Sumeet Gulati, an associate professor in the food and resource economics group at UBC, chose not to submit his vaccination status to check whether the rapid testing program was being enforced.
Prof. Gulati received several e-mails from the university, reminding him to declare vaccination status or otherwise participate in rapid testing. But no further action has been taken, he said.
He said he wants to know how these polices are being implemented or enforced. “That has not been made clear since the beginning of the semester.”
UBC viral ecologist Gideon Mordecai said he wasn’t convinced those programs were working, so instead of uploading proof of vaccination, as he was required to do, he submitted a random photo. Nothing has happened to him, he noted.
“My concern was that there’d be people who do not want to get vaccinated, who would do the same thing,” he said.
He added professors and students who are going to the class would assume those who aren’t vaccinated are getting tested. “And that might not necessarily be the case.”
Matthew Ramsey, a spokesperson for UBC, said the university has looked at the upload status of more than 80,000 students, faculty and staff. Where no upload has taken place, targeted communication has been sent directing those individuals to complete the process. He said the formal audit process is being discussed and will be rolled out shortly.
He said people who have found to have submitted incorrect documentation or nothing at all will be contacted directly to remind them to complete the process. He added they will also be required to complete rapid testing until the verification process is complete. Continued non-compliance may lead to significant repercussions, though what those would be would be determined case by case.
The audit process at SFU won’t start until next month. Some university employees raised similar concerns about enforcement.
The university is offering rapid screening to individuals who are not vaccinated, or who choose not to declare their vaccination status.
“If you don’t declare, they don’t actually require you to be tested, they only make available testing. ... If you want to make sure people are protected from the virus other than transmitting it, this vaccine declaration doesn’t really do that,” said Derek Sahota, member representative at the university’s Teaching Support Staff Union.
SFU spokesperson Matt Kieltyka said in an e-mail that individuals who are not fully vaccinated or who choose not to declare their vaccination status receive weekly reminders with links to where they can get vaccinated, as well as information to book their rapid screening appointment.
He, too, said the school will focus on community education and communication. He noted continued non-compliance will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
The vast majority of students and faculty at UBC, SFU and the University of Victoria have declared they are fully vaccinated, according to their spokespersons. More than 90 per cent of students and employees at UBC and Victoria have completed their declarations, with more than 95 per cent of them reporting full immunization. At SFU, more than 88 per cent of the community members have disclosed vaccine status; among them, 97 per cent declared to have had two shots.
Universities in Ontario were the first, in August, to declare that students and faculty would be required to be vaccinated to attend classes. Other universities across the country followed, including Alberta, where officials said students would be subjected to routine testing before attending classes unless they were vaccinated.
British Columbia’s Provincial Health Officer declined to require staff and students to be vaccinated to attend classes, preferring instead to require students only to be vaccinated to attend campus restaurants, gyms and indoor events. Her office advised universities that they could not bring in their own vaccination requirement. After considerable outcry from professors who felt they were not protected, major B.C. universities instead brought in a requirement for students and staff to declare their vaccination status and to commit to regular rapid testing if they were not vaccinated.
A spokesperson for the University of Victoria said the October audit is under way, but there are no results yet.
Kane Kilby, co-chair at Victoria’s COVID-19 transition team, said the university’s internal audit unit is auditing self-declaration status on a random sample basis. All people selected for the audit have been advised that failure to adhere to this request, or the provision of a false declaration of vaccine status, may result in discipline, loss of the ability to access services or premises, or the loss of other privileges.
With a report from The Canadian Press
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