The Canadian Federation of Students Newfoundland and Labrador (CFS-NL) wants more information after Memorial University announced Friday it would mandate masks and COVID-19 vaccines for students and faculty for the upcoming school year.
The university's announcement late Friday afternoon came with little details, including the deadlines for receiving the first and second dose of the vaccine and an exemption process for those unwilling to be vaccinated for medical, cultural or religious reasons that represent a conscionable objection.
According to CFS-NL's chairperson Kat McLaughlin, the lack of information has students concerned.
"Right now students are feeling a lot of anxiety, they are getting ready to go back to school without a lot of information about what that will look like," said McLaughlin.
"What we really need to see is that students have the opportunity to access the vaccine that is in a way that is not inhibiting them from accessing their education."
In Friday's announcement, posted to the university's online newspaper, the Gazette, provost and academic vice-president Dr. Florentine Strzelczyk wrote, "more information related to the details of these measures will be shared as soon as possible."
It is MUNFA's opinion that Memorial University should implement these necessary measures - Travis Perry
However, both the CFS-NL and Memorial University's Faculty Association (MUNFA) say they support the university's decision, as long as those who are unable to be vaccinated will be accommodated.
"With the return of so many students to our campuses, it is MUNFA's opinion that Memorial University should implement these necessary measures to protect everyone in our community and to minimize the chance of disruption to students' learning," wrote MUNFA member Travis Perry in a statement to CBC News.
Concerns for international students
McLaughlin said one of her main concerns right now is for students that are travelling from other parts of the world. She said there could be students coming from countries that have vaccines that are not approved in Canada.
She also knows there will be students that will not be vaccinated upon arrival and she is concerned about the time it will take to access the first and second dose of the vaccine.
"There will be students that will not be vaccinated when they arrive or who are currently here and are not currently vaccinated and they need that opportunity and time to access it," she said.
McLaughlin said she has not been hearing from very many students who are against the mandate, but she does know students want the option to be granted an exception if they need it.
"There needs to be an avenue to understand that not every situation fits the rules and regulations."
MUNSU weighs in
In a statement to CBC News on Friday, Memorial's students' union said it does not support implementing a mandatory vaccination policy for all staff and students.
"We believe that all students and staff at Memorial should have the freedom of choice and not have their human rights infringed upon due to new norms within society," read the statement sent by Hilary Hennessey, executive director of external affairs, communications and research.
"We are encouraging that all staff and students get vaccinated, but ultimately, we respect that it is an individual decision that must be respected."
However, when CBC News followed up for an in-person interview Saturday, Hennessey said MUNSU was reevaluating its stance.
Newfoundland and Labrador has 14 active cases of COVID-19 as of Friday, most of them related to travel. Thirteen are in the Eastern Health region.
Nearly 71 per cent of the province's eligible population had received two doses of vaccine as of Wednesday, according to public health, while 85 per cent has received at least one.