COVID-19: MLHU would support mandatory vaccination at Western University

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The Middlesex-London Health Unit says it would support a mandatory vaccination policy at Western University, should the university wish to implement such a policy.

Western announced in May that it is requiring students living in residence to have at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine before they arrive on campus, but the university’s faculty union wants the policy to extend further.

“We know through other programs in Canada and across the world that mandatory vaccination policies do increase vaccine uptake. And maximizing vaccine uptake is absolutely critical to a safe return to campuses and to classrooms,” said the MLHU’s associate medical officer of health Dr. Alex Summers on Thursday.

“The Middlesex-London Health Unit would support mandatory vaccination protocols in businesses and in post-secondary institutions, acknowledging that there’s many other considerations that have to be discussed and determined.”

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On Tuesday, the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (UWOFA) called on the administration to require “all eligible students, staff, faculty, librarians and archivists to be fully vaccinated before coming to campus, acknowledging that some may be exempt for medical or religious reasons.”

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“The classroom and the environment on campus, labs and so forth, where the students are where our (union) members are, that’s also their workplace,” said UWOFA president Nigmendra Narain on Tuesday.

“UWOFA asserts that everyone has a right to a safe work and learning environment on campus.”

Narain says discussions with Western on a safe return to school in the fall have been going on throughout the summer, but there are still uncertainties surrounding how that plan will look.

When asked for comment on Wednesday, a spokesperson with Western University directed Global News to information on the university’s health and safety planning for the return to school.

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On Thursday, Summers said the MLHU supports “policies that maximize vaccine uptake,” such as mandatory vaccination policies. He adds that the health unit “would continue to support our partners as they navigate this, acknowledging that this is new territory for many.”

“Vaccination is the key thing that will allow for activities this September, particularly in indoor contexts, to proceed like we would wish them to proceed,” he said.

“People want to feel safe in those indoor environments and recognize that those around them are also doing their part to protect themselves and each other.”

Summers also noted that the majority of people in the community have been vaccinated. Of those who have yet to be vaccinated, for some it’s a matter of “finding the time, getting the answers to their questions and making sure that they’re comfortable proceeding.”

In the event of a COVID-19 outbreak, Summers said those who are not vaccinated will be required to quarantine while fully vaccinated individuals will not be sent home, though conditions and protocols may change.

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Ipsos polling in January showed that 64 per cent of Canadians supported mandatory vaccinations, but the idea is not without controversy.

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Speaking to Global News in late June, Kerry Bowman a professor of bioethics and global health at the University of Toronto, said mandating vaccination raises ethical concerns.

“I have a very hard time saying to someone, ‘You absolutely have to do this even if you don’t want to,'” he said at the time. “I think that’s really, from an ethical point of view, pushing things too far.”

Bowman says he understands that this is a national and global emergency, but the rights and freedoms of the individual are “an important foundation to how we live” and that, while there are limits to that, “the limits have to be very cautiously constructed.”

— with files from Global News’ Andrew Graham.

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