On Friday the University of Saskatchewan (USask) announced that they expect all students, faculty and staff to be vaccinated by mid-October to visit the university’s Prince Albert campus in the fall.
Proof of a first dose will be required by Sept. 7, with proof of a second dose required by Oct. 18.
USask officials said the decision was in response to the fourth COVID-19 wave now underway across Canada. The vaccination requirements are for all USask campuses in the province.
Patti McDougall, USask’s Vice Provost of Teaching, Learning and Student Experience and member of the Pandemic Response and Recovery Team, said concerns about student safety were the primary motivator. She said safety has always been at the forefront of the university's thinking throughout the pandemic.
“We have been tracking vaccination uptake and looking at the fourth wave of the pandemic,” McDougall explained. “We determined that we needed to step up our protocols in order to create the safest environment that we could in order to get through a fall semester with as little disruption as possible so that everyone can be successful in their studies.”
McDougall added that the time between the announcement and the actual vaccination will create a window to allow students to get their first and second shot.
The university will have a PAWS portal system set up where students provide proof of their vaccination status.
McDougall said the university has been monitoring the vaccination rates in the age group most likely to be students.
“We know the Saskatchewan and Canadian vaccination rates and we can see that 18 to 29 year old age group is lagging on their second vaccinations and that the rate of uptake is really just not good enough,” she said. “We do believe that by doing this at the University of Saskatchewan we are helping the province raise those rates of vaccination and helping us move forward and have a positive impact on those around us.”
“(It’s) just an encouragement for everyone to go out there and get vaccinated,” she added. “It's our single strategy to finally get into that better normal, which we are all looking for.”
Individuals who are unable or who are unwilling to get vaccinated will be required to provide regular and frequent negative COVID-19 test results and to submit a daily symptom checklist in order to access USask campuses.
McDougall said they will verify the documentation, and monitor test results for anyone who is not vaccinated. These measures will be implemented across all campuses, including the Prince Albert campus.
“We are pretty excited about opening the doors and having our Prince Albert campus fill up this fall. All of those students will be required to disclose their vaccination status as I have indicated. So nothing will be different in any way, shape or form,” McDougall said.
The university said that these measures aim to minimize the health risks to all people who visit USask campuses.
The stronger vaccination and health safety measures were implemented following recommendations from the university’s Pandemic Response and Recovery Team (PRT). The group was concerned about the emerging risk of Delta and other variants, as well as the stalled and comparatively low vaccination rates among those under 30 in Saskatchewan. Consultations with other Canadian institutions, USask faculty, and legal and public health experts have contributed to this decision.
“The health and safety of our campuses is a shared responsibility that requires all members of our university community to do their part,” Usask President Peter Stoicheff said in a release.
“These new measures are endorsed by the university’s senior leadership and our Board of Governors. I am confident that these new measures will further protect the health and safety of our university community and of communities beyond.”
Vaccinations will also be required for those involved in higher-risk activities—including those living in on or off campus residence and those involved in Huskie Athletics. The Prince Albert campus does not include any on or off campus residences, according to McDougall.
Requests for exemption from this vaccination requirement will be considered in alignment with The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code. The university is currently reviewing other areas of programming that carry elevated COVID-19 transmission risks, and will update the campus community as those additional activities are identified.
“We are anticipating that the ones that would be the most likely (to ask for an exemption) would be medical grounds and/or religious grounds and so we will be ready,” McDougall said. “We will be ready if that in fact is necessary and handle that accordingly.”
All current COVID-19 health and safety measures remain in place including indoor mask requirements, wastewater testing, some continued on-line programming, space reconfigurations in high-traffic areas, and enhanced cleaning. Vaccination clinics will continue to be available on the Saskatoon campus.
Full details on how to provide proof of vaccination will be announced in the coming days.
McDougall concluded by encouraging everyone to get vaccinated.
“It's our single strategy to finally get into that better normal which we are all looking for,” she said.
On Friday, the University of Regina also announced similar plans for the fall semester.
Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald