By Herald on September 13, 2021.
Tim Kalinowski – Lethbridge Herald
The University of Lethbridge announced on Monday it would be joining eight other post-secondary institutions across Alberta in requiring all students, staff, faculty and visitors be vaccinated against COVID-19 before being allowed on campus.
The U of L joins the University of Alberta, University of Calgary, MacEwan University, Medicine Hat College, Mount Royal University, NAIT, SAIT, and NorQuest College in its mandatory vaccination decision.
President and Vice-Chancellor Mike Mahon said the requirement for vaccination will kick in Nov. 1, and will likely use the same uLethbridge Safe App the university is using now for students, faculty and staff; however, it will no longer provide for a rapid test option in lieu of vaccination.
“We are working on the refining of details right now,” Mahon explained to local media on Monday. “Presently in our Safe App, the individuals have to go into the app and indicate the dates they were vaccinated in order to be on campus because of the vaccinations, and they have the option to provide information on the specific vaccinations they’ve had. We are right now looking at how we will transition to Nov. 1 and the information that will be required.”
Visitors will be required to provide proof of vaccination as well, but the university will “likely use a different vehicle for that,” outside of the Safe App, Mahon said.
Mahon confirmed as long as the Government of Alberta does not mandate the use of vaccine passports province-wide through AHS, proof of vaccination will be somewhat challenging to completely verify.
“We will not be seeking health information that is private where we can go in and access health information,” he stated bluntly. “It will be information that is provided to us by the student, faculty member, or staff. We are very mindful of the sanctity of the privacy of accessing health information. And that would never be something we would pursue.”
The university will have “an audit” process to crosscheck vaccination declarations from students, faculty and staff, but the details are still being worked out, Mahon confirmed.
“We have to be careful we are not being too intrusive, but we want to be careful that what we receive in terms of information is accurate,” he said. “Obviously the province does not have a vaccine passport so we will have to use means that are at our disposal to access the information to determine if individuals have been vaccinated.”
Mahon hoped the decision to mandate vaccination for those accessing on-campus services and classrooms would not receive too much pushback. The U of L estimates already 86 per cent of its students have received their vaccinations, but would like to get that number up as close to 100 per cent as possible. Mahon cited the example of Western University which has mandated vaccination for some time, and has a 98 per cent vaccination rate on campus.
Mahon said by making the deadline Nov. 1 instead of Jan. 1, as other schools in the province are doing, it would add some encouragement to those who haven’t yet gotten around to getting their COVID-19 shots.
“What we are saying to students is, number one, we would like them to get vaccinated,” stated Mahon. “We think it is in their best interest, the best interest of their family, their friends, and the broader community and, of course, our campus. And secondly, the community of students that choose not to, we are going to encourage them to look to see if they can access online courses that are going to support their academic program. But our hope is the majority of students choose to become vaccinated.”
Mahon said the school’s number one priority in bringing in a vaccine requirement on campus is to keep the university open for in person classes as the Delta variant takes greater hold of the region and local ICUs continue to fill up.
“We are really concerned about ensuring our students don’t have to go back online,” he said. “We saw some real challenges from a student mental health perspective, a faculty and staff mental health perspective; as well as we’re concerned about ensuring we maintain the academic integrity of the experience for our students. This is why we have done this ultimately– to ensure we are maintaining the success of our students being back on campus.”