SMU to make COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for some students, staff and coaches

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Saint Mary's University says its vaccination policy will keep the campus safe. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
Saint Mary's University says its vaccination policy will keep the campus safe. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

Saint Mary's University in Halifax announced Friday it will implement a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy this fall semester for some students and staff.

The requirement will apply to students who live in residence as well as student athletes, in addition to staff and coaches who work in athletics programs.

The university will provide vaccination clinics on campus with the aim of making sure those students, staff and coaches are immunized by Oct. 15, at which point proof of vaccination will be required.

"We're looking around the landscape and we're all looking across the country and seeing the increase in COVID-19 cases across Canada, we're seeing the increase in the spread of the Delta variant," said Saint Mary's president Robert Summerby-Murray.

"It's incumbent on us as an institution to ensure the health and safety of our community is protected in the best possible way."

Vaccinations will not be mandatory for other students or staff members when the fall term starts.

Pop-up vaccination clinics

The pop-up vaccination clinics are expected to be set up within a few days of the beginning of the fall term on Sept. 1. The university will also offer daily asymptomatic rapid testing on campus and will continue to direct that masks be worn in all indoor spaces.

Paul Poirier/CBC
Paul Poirier/CBC

There is also a daily check-in for faculty, staff, students and visitors to the school.

The initial vaccine mandate applies to those in residence and involved in sports as those have been deemed as higher risk areas of exposure. The university decided insisting everyone be fully vaccinated by Sept. 1 would not be an achievable goal.

"We need to make sure we have policies in place that are authentic, workable and realistic," said Summerby-Murray.

"We're also aware we may have students coming to the province who may just be beginning their vaccination journey ,and so we want to be sure we are realistic and not claiming something we cannot do."

Those who do not provide proof of vaccination will not be able to participate in the areas the university has identified as being at higher risk.

Summerby-Murray said all of the COVID-19 measures are being put in place following discussions with Nova Scotia Public Health as well as after consultations with staff, faculty and students.

Mostly positive reaction from faculty

The university's faculty union, which has called for mandatory vaccinations for all students, staff, faculty and visitors, said it was pleased to see Friday's announcement.

"I'm happy to see that Saint Mary's is leading on this," said Rohini Bannerjee, union president and an associate professor in the department of modern languages and classics.

Bannerjee said the implementation of vaccination clinics and pop-up testing will be helpful especially for international students, although she acknowledges some of her colleagues would liked to have seen an even broader immunization mandate.

"I think many members still want this mandated across the board, but I think this is a good first step and I feel this is moving towards encouraging members to be vaccinated," she said.

Saint Mary's has just under 7,000 students and around 1,000 staff and faculty members, although the university expects about half of that number to be on campus this fall because of the expansion of online learning.

Elsewhere in Halifax, a spokesperson for Mount Saint Vincent University said it is also considering enacting mandatory vaccinations.

Dalhousie University's administration said it plans to follow current public health guidelines in response to a request from its faculty association that all students and staff be fully vaccinated before the fall term.

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