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Canadian post-secondary institutions announce COVID vaccine requirements for 2021/22

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Many major Canadian post-secondary institutions are requiring that students be vaccinated with Canada-approved COVID vaccines in order to attend in-person classes and activities on campus this fall
  • Others are requiring that students who are not fully vaccinated submit to rapid COVID testing
  • McGill University, and many institutions in Alberta, are not requiring students to be vaccinated or tested but rather urging them to do so
  • Some institutions are helping international students to become fully vaccinated with Canada-approved vaccines

As students begin returning to Canadian university and college campuses this fall, they are checking not only their programme requirements and class schedules but also the COVID vaccine and/or testing requirements at their school. Institutional executives have been listening to government guidance and balancing the need to keep their campus communities safe with the need to respect individual freedoms. They have also been grappling with the fact that many international students will have received at least one dose of a vaccine outside of Canada that is not Canada-approved.

Vaccine rules vary by province and even by institution

In general, Canadian colleges and university staff are hoping to offer students who have signed up for in-person instruction as much of their programmes face to face – or at least through a hybrid model – as possible. This goal will be far more easily achieved if COVID cases on campus can be kept to an absolute minimum – leading many institutions to require students and staff to present proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test in order to be on campus.

Some of Canada’s most prominent universities and colleges – especially those in Ontario and Nova Scotia – are requiring students and staff to prove they have received a first dose of a vaccine by early to mid-September and a second dose by mid-October in order to attend in-person classes and use campus facilities. At some institutions, if individuals aren’t fully vaccinated in September, they must submit to rapid testing in order to be on campus. Some exemptions, mostly medical, will be granted. Several institutions either already have or are developing web portals that can store students’ and staff members’ proof of vaccination.

Institutions adhering to this mandatory vaccine framework include the University of Toronto, Algonquin College, Centennial College, Humber College, Queens University, Western University, University of Guelph, York University, University of Waterloo, Carleton University, University of Ottawa, University of Windsor, Seneca College, University of Manitoba, University of Winnipeg, University of PEI, Mohawk College, University of Cape Breton, and Saint Mary’s University. There are many more institutions following this model and students and agents should check with individual schools for full details.

Quite contentiously, one of Canada’s top-ranked universities, McGill, has not released a vaccine mandate. In this, the Quebec-based university is more in line with universities in Alberta (e.g., University of Calgary and University of Alberta) in not requiring COVID vaccinations or testing.

Another Quebec-based post-secondary institution, Bishop’s University, has chosen to limit the use of its campus based on whether individuals are vaccinated. All students can attend in-person classes, but only the vaccinated will be allowed to use the gym and food courts/bars and to attend orientation week events.

Several institutions have so far decided not to require mandatory proof of vaccination; most of these are urging students and staff to get vaccinated but allowing them to submit to rapid COVID testing if they choose not to be vaccinated. Institutions falling into this category include George Brown College, Thompson Rivers University, Ryerson University, Dalhousie University, and University of British Columbia.

Students wondering about whether they will be required to wear masks in class and in other areas of the campus will be able to find that information directly from their schools, but it is safe to say that the majority of Canadian schools at every level will require indoor masking in the fall.

COVID safety protocols are rapidly changing at Canadian universities, mostly in response to evolving epidemiological situations (e.g., some parts of Canada have entered a fourth wave of COVID). Despite some protests/petitions by organised groups of students, parents, and staff arguing that mandatory vaccination/testing policies violate individual freedoms, we can expect that mandatory vaccination or testing will be the norm on many of the Canadian campuses hosting the largest numbers of international students this fall. For rolling updates, please consult this continuing bulletin from University Affairs.

What does it mean for international students?

Not all international students coming to Canada will have met full vaccine requirements for the schools they are attending when they arrive. Some will have a first dose of a WHO-authorised vaccine, which in Ontario at least, allows them to move into residence. To help them meet their full vaccine requirement, there are initiatives underway at several Canadian universities and colleges.

Ontario-based Conestoga College’s vice-president international and executive dean, Gary Hallam, told Canada’s CBC News:

“Those who do not have Canadian-approved vaccination, either one or both of them, they have to self-isolate for the 14 days, do the testing as required by the federal government [and] we monitor them, contact them daily. Once their approved test comes back negative, we then work with them, assisting them. As they come out of isolation, they can begin getting their vaccination. We have our health unit that works with them so they can get the vaccine on campus. We also partnered with some local pharmacies to make it easy for them.”

While many international students will be happy to receive a Canada-approved vaccine upon arrival, there will be others – especially those who have received one or two shots of an alternative vaccine in their home countries – who feel more reluctance, confusion, or fear about the safety of mixing vaccines.

As CBC News notes, vaccines that are not recognised in Canada include “Covaxin, made by Bharat Biotech in India, a top source country of international students at Canadian universities, and Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, used in dozens of countries including South Korea, Argentina and the United Arab Emirates.” CBC spoke with immigration consultant Roya Golesorkhi, who said she is seeing vaccine hesitancy in some of the international students she works with. Those students are worried about the risk of mixing vaccines. “It’s a valid concern,” Ms Golesorkhi told the CBC. “They see themselves as fully vaccinated, and they don’t want to get vaccinated again here.”

The Public Health Agency of Canada told the CBC that it is “assessing the issue.”

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