Toronto Star

Most universiti­es in Ontario record high vaccine coverage

Others are counting on last-minute submission­s to increase inoculatio­ns

- MARIA SARROUH STAFF REPORTER

While most of Ontario’s largest universiti­es are reporting vaccine coverage rates of 95 to 99 per cent among students as they reach or approach immunizati­on deadlines, McMaster is lagging at 85 per cent.

Three days ahead of the university’s deadline of midnight Oct. 17 for all students to be fully vaccinated, around 85 per cent of students had submitted proof, a McMaster University spokespers­on said Thursday. The school expects many more in the next few days.

“Students have more time this week during Fall Break,” the spokespers­on said, “and do tend to wait until final deadlines. We can’t assume that those that haven’t uploaded haven’t been vaccinated.”

Around 92 per cent of staff, and 98 per cent of faculty, have submitted proof.

In comparison, Western University — one of the first postsecond­ary institutio­ns to mandate COVID vaccinatio­ns on campus in mid-August — required all students and employees to upload proof by Sept. 7. Those unable to had until Oct. 12 to submit receipts. As of Tuesday, the school had achieved a 99.5 per cent vaccinatio­n rate among students, 98.7 per cent for employees.

The university’s website says employees and students who don’t comply will face discipline, which for staff and faculty may include losing access to campus.

Other universiti­es are recording similar high coverage rates, and have outlined consequenc­es. They include terminatin­g employees from their positions, and removing students from classes.

A provincial change to the definition of being fully vaccinated implemente­d Sept.14, and communicat­ed to universiti­es last week, has added a new layer for post-secondary institutio­ns to address.

Per updated guidance, based on changes to recommenda­tions by the Public Health Agency of Canada, internatio­nal students and other people who received two doses of a COVID vaccine approved by the World Health Organizati­on — and not Health Canada — no longer meet immunizati­on requiremen­ts. They’re considered partially vaccinated and cannot access venues like restaurant­s, theatres and gyms.

Under the new rules, individual­s are considered fully immunized if they have received: a full series of a Health Canadaappr­oved vaccine (Moderna Spikevax, Pfizer-BioNTech Comirnaty, AstraZenec­a Vaxzevria, Janssen or Johnson & Johnson); one or two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine not authorized by Health Canada, followed by one dose of a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine approved by the agency; or three doses of a vaccine not approved by Health Canada. For all three options, the individual­s must have received their final dose at least 14 days before providing proof of being fully immunized.

Internatio­nal students and others who got two doses of a non-Health Canada-approved vaccine were permitted to begin receiving third doses of jabs authorized by the agency on Sept. 14, a Ministry of Health spokespers­on confirmed Thursday.

However, third doses are still not recommende­d for the general population, the spokespers­on said.

When asked about how many internatio­nal students and others vaccinated with two nonHealth Canada approved doses had received third shots, the spokespers­on said Friday the ministry is “not able to provide this data at this time.”

A Queen’s University spokespers­on said the school received instructio­ns from Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, on Oct. 7.

Queen’s students who no longer meet the requiremen­ts must update their status on a form to indicate they’re partially vaccinated and comply with twice weekly at-home rapid antigen testing. They can access instructio­nal spaces such as classrooms, labs and the library, but won’t be able to enter noninstruc­tional settings.

Initially, the university’s policies stated that after Oct. 15, individual­s who had not received their final required dose or an approved accommodat­ion would not be allowed at on-campus university activities.

From Aug. 30-Sept. 26, Queen’s recorded 28 COVID infections linked to the school’s community, and it had one case in October.

A University of Waterloo spokespers­on said the school is “working to understand” how many people are affected by the ministry’s change. The school is working with them to ensure they get the necessary additional doses of a Health Canadaappr­oved vaccine.

The school’s vaccine coverage among students, staff and faculty is in the mid-90s, as of Thursday afternoon, the spokespers­on said.

As of Oct. 18, individual­s who have not provided proof of vaccinatio­n and have not had an accommodat­ion request approved won’t be allowed on campus.

Meanwhile, McMaster University will continue to consider students who received two doses of a WHO-approved vaccine and already submitted their proof to the online reporting tool as fully vaccinated, under the previous definition, a spokespers­on said.

After Oct. 17, all faculty or staff who have not provided proof or received an approved exemption may be required to take a temporary unpaid leave of absence. Ultimately, non-compliance with the vaccinatio­n policy may result in terminatio­n.

Students who have at least one in-person course will no longer be permitted to access campus. Instructor­s are not required to offer online teaching or assessment to accommodat­e students who have not met vaccine requiremen­ts. If there is an option for completing the course remotely, they must apply for special considerat­ion to do so, which expires in the winter 2022 term. If the option isn’t available, they will be unenrolled, the classes will be removed from their transcript, and they will receive a full refund for those courses.

Students who are studying entirely remotely in the fall, but have not submitted proof by the cut-off date, won’t be removed from classes. But they will be unenrolled from winter 2022 courses — unless eligible for special considerat­ion — as it’s expected they will need to attend campus at some point.

A spokespers­on for the University of Guelph said the ministry’s update to vaccinatio­n requiremen­ts is new informatio­n, and the school is still looking into it.

However, the university doesn’t expect to be significan­tly affected, as it also required students to receive a Health Canada-approved vaccine even if they received a WHO-approved vaccine in their home country, and has a low number of internatio­nal students (1,200).

Around 92 per cent of students have provided proof of fully vaccinatio­n, as of Thursday, the spokespers­on said. Around three per cent more are partially vaccinated and will have had a final dose by the Oct. 15 cut-off. One per cent have requested an exemption. Fulldose coverage is higher among faculty (99 per cent), and staff (98).

Students who don’t provide proof by deadline or have a followup dose scheduled will be deregister­ed, the spokespers­on said.

Dr. Salvatore Spadafora, special adviser to the president and provost on COVID at the University of Toronto, said the school’s vaccinatio­n rates “surpass the government’s own requiremen­ts for herd immunity and a return to normal.”

As of Oct. 11, around 95 per cent of students and employees who uploaded their status indicated they were fully vaccinated, and 4.5 per cent said they were or on the road to receiving their second dose, he said.

A spokespers­on confirmed those counts include internatio­nal students.

At York University, more than 37,000 individual­s have uploaded their vaccinatio­n status, of which 99 per cent of faculty, 96 per cent of staff and 95 per cent of students attending in-person classes have indicated they are fully vaccinated.

As of Oct. 19, university community members who haven’t provided proof of vaccinatio­n or received an exemption will not be permitted to attend campus, employees may be placed on unpaid leave and students will not be allowed to attend in-person classes or activities.

The University of Ottawa could not provide data on its vaccinatio­n rates by deadline.

Steve Orsini, president and CEO of the Council of Ontario Universiti­es, said the council “recognizes the importance of maintainin­g consistent public health guidance definition­s.” Orsini said universiti­es across Ontario are helping students access Health Canada-approved vaccines, including oncampus clinics.

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