The union representing faculty at Western University is continuing to push for a broader COVID-19 vaccine mandate and says a survey meant to estimate vaccination rates and “inform health and safety measures” is unnecessary.
University of Western Ontario Faculty Association president Nigmendra Narain says UWOFA has also drawn support from the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which represents teaching assistants, as well as the King’s University College Faculty Association (KUCFA).
On Wednesday, Western University launched the confidential survey, which consists of just two questions: Have you been fully vaccinated against COVID-19? And, if not, do you plan to be fully vaccinated before the start of the fall semester?
“This is just one piece of information that we’re trying to collect to help guide us in all of the decisions we have to make to ensure that our campus will be safe,” Western University acting provost and vice-president Dr. Sarah Prichard told Global News on Thursday.
Campus community members are being notified of the survey via email and the survey is being conducted by Metrics@Work out of St. Catharines, which will provide the university with only aggregated group data.
UWOFA, however, does not anticipate that the information gathered from the survey will be revelatory.
“A survey, I don’t think, is going to change the necessity for a vaccine mandate. It’s just going to create a situation where they’ve got some information,” Narain said, before raising concerns about the information itself.
“How many people are going to reply, what sort of data is this going to generate?”
Western University has already implemented a mandatory vaccination policy for students living in residence, but UWOFA says that’s not enough.
When asked what additional action UWOFA is willing to take in pursuit of a mandate, Narain said that the focus now is on the administration’s response.
“If it comes down to what happens if there’s no vaccine mandate, we have to consider what are our options and we’ll have to look at those seriously. But at this juncture, I would prefer to sort of ‘let’s figure out a way to get what we need done,’ which is the vaccine mandate.”
However, Prichard says there has not been support for a mandate at the provincial level.
“The chief medical officer for public health for the province of Ontario has said that he does not believe that it is necessary and has not been interested in mandating it,” she explained.
“Public health, they’re our partners and we work with them and we work with the same data, much of the same data, that they have and we follow along with them. It’s always been our commitment to follow public health guidance.”
She added that there are also legal considerations but that “legal considerations alone would not stop us” from requiring vaccination “if, indeed, that became the appropriate and mandated decision from Public Health (Ontario).”
Narain addressed potential criticisms that a mandatory vaccination policy could infringe on individual rights, arguing that it is necessary to provide a safe workplace and would even help protect those who are unvaccinated.
“We will still have individuals who have medical and religious grounds for not being vaccinated. And if they are back at Western with the vaccine mandate and they have their exception, they themselves are safer.”
In the absence of a mandate, Narain said some faculty are considering different options like moving an in-person class online.
“What our members are not able to focus on right now is the teaching that they are going to be doing in a few weeks because they’re worried about this overhanging, looming issue… In the absence of (a vaccine mandate), we are going to keep hearing from members and they are emailing us about ‘what about this option’ and ‘what about that option.’”
Prichard says Western’s first concern is safety and they have “a lot of confidence that we can have a campus that is safe.”
She added that for those with serious concerns, there are mechanisms for various accommodations are available for students, staff and faculty through their human resources department.
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