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Alberta's universities won't be able to require vaccinations for those returning to campus

Last Updated Jul 30, 2021 at 11:13 am MDT

Summary

Profs concerned about fall semester following province's decision to scale back COVID-19 preventions

U of C says it can't mandate vaccinations on campus, says the province has its hands tied

Province says it encourages people to get the shot, but respects right to choose

CALGARY – Crowded classrooms, a population with a below-average vaccination rate, and the virus ticking along at a high transmission rate.

Three things university professors are worried could spell disaster in Alberta after the province announced reduced COVID-19 interventions Wednesday.

“I was quite shocked yesterday to hear all the news and the new decisions. It seems like extremely poor judgment,” said Assistant Professor at the University of Calgary Ryan Burns.

“These are prime conditions for just a slaughter this fall, to use a violent metaphor.”


READ MORE: Mandatory COVID-19 isolation rules in Alberta to lift next month


The province says it will end isolation requirements for positive cases, stop alerting close contacts of cases, and consolidate testing resources.

“The biggest concern is just the people who are unable to get vaccinated and are going to be put in conditions where the virus is going to spread like wildfire.”

Burns says this could create a barrier to education for those who can’t get the shot and those for whom the shot is less effective.

“It seems unfair to put them in a position where they are going to be at a significantly increased risk when simple public health measures like masking, testing, contact tracing all that could be continued just a little bit longer.”


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In a bid to save lives and have a normal school year, hundreds of American universities are mandating vaccination.

Several post-secondary institutions in Ontario have also implemented mandatory vaccines for students and staff who plan to be on campus this fall.

Out east, Wilfred Laurier University, the University of Toronto, and Western University made vaccines mandatory for students living in the schools’ residences.

Seneca College is making vaccines mandatory for all students and staff returning to campus.

Despite calls for similar rules to be put in place at Alberta’s post-secondary institutions, the U of C says its hands are tied.

“In Alberta, it is not currently possible to require vaccines to attend university or insist on knowing vaccine status of individuals. However, we emphatically support the value of vaccines and the importance of vaccination,” reads a statement from the school’s president, Dr. Ed McCauley.

The province said in a statement to CityNews that it encourages everyone to get vaccinated, but leaves the choice with each individual person.

“We respect the right of individuals to choose to get the vaccine and will not be requiring post-secondary institutions in Alberta to mandate vaccinations on campus. There is also no mechanism that would allow institutions to require students to be vaccinated for in-person attendance on campus,” said the statement from the office of the minister of advanced education.

And the health minister doesn’t seem too keen on the idea of allowing schools to mandate vaccination.

“I would have concerns if there are opportunities for people to compel the disclosure of someone’s health information,” Tyler Shandro said when asked about the matter Thursday.

-with files from CityNews Toronto