Several Ontario universities are strengthening their COVID-19 vaccine policies before classes begin next month following a recommendation from a group representing public health officers across the province.
The University of Toronto and Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., announced Thursday that unvaccinated individuals without a valid medical or human rights exemption would not be able to access their campuses.
They joined a growing number of universities, including Western University in London, Ont., and Carleton University in Ottawa, that released similar updates to their policies this week.
Previous university policies allowed unvaccinated people to take regular COVID-19 tests as an alternative to being fully vaccinated in order to be on campus.
The University of Toronto said it expected everyone on its campuses to have their first COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 13 and be fully immunized by Oct. 15, with accommodations made for those with valid exemptions.
"All members of our community who come onto our campuses in the fall must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19," it wrote in a statement. "Rapid screening cannot be used as an alternative to vaccination without an approved exemption."
Queen's similarly said unvaccinated individuals without an exemption wouldn't be able to attend campus or participate in any in-person university activity.
"This update recognizes that vaccination against COVID-19 remains the single most effective public health measure to reduce the spread of the virus," it said.
Earlier this week, Western said it was changing its policy to protect members of its community.
"There is no longer a testing option for those who simply choose not to be vaccinated," it said. "High rates of vaccination continue to be our clearest path to a safe community and a safe campus."
Carleton said those who are unvaccinated due to permitted exemptions or those who were waiting to get their second shot would have to take frequent rapid tests.
Earlier this week, the Council of Ontario Medical Officers of Health wrote to university and college presidents expressing "strong support" for COVID-19 vaccination policies at all their institutions.
"The virus will continue to circulate this fall and it is important to create the conditions that will allow students to return to in person education and the post-secondary sector to operate with appropriate public health measures in place," the council wrote.
"Rapid testing protocols are not preventive and are not a replacement for immunization and should be used only in instances where vaccination is not possible."
Last week, the province's top doctor said there are plans for vaccination policies in post-secondary institutions, though those have not yet been made public.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 26, 2021.
Elena De Luigi, The Canadian Press