An online petition created by a Western University professor is urging university administration to make two doses of a Health Canada-approved vaccine mandatory for all students, faculty and staff returning to campus in the fall.

Greg Gloor, Western biochemistry professor, created a petition after a memo from the Ontario ministry of colleges and universities was distributed to post-secondary institutions last week. The memo told schools to expect a normal in-person fall with no capacity limits or physical distancing. Masks will continue to be expected indoors. 

Many institutions — including Western — are planning for a hybrid model of delivery with most classes delivered in-person and a small portion online. But that may not be enough to protect the Western community in the fall, according to Gloor.

“It's problematic to make a blanket statement that we're just going to be in-person without … [doing] everything that we can do to make sure that it's a safe return,” Gloor said.

A large number of students will return to Western from outside Ontario and the country. By the time a rise in infection rates causes concerns of an outbreak, it will already be too late because of the exponential growth characteristics of the virus, Gloor said.

Gloor’s petition boasts widespread support from the community with over 1,900 signatures.

The Ontario ministry’s memo came as vaccination rates in Ontario rose throughout the summer, but the ministry did not indicate they will mandate any particular standard for immunization rates on post-secondary campuses. 

Currently 71 per cent of adults in Ontario are fully vaccinated with 81.4 per cent of the over-eighteen crowd having received at least one dose. 

“Canada and Ontario have among the highest [coronavirus] vaccination rates in the world. However we see that infections with the delta variant are rising even in highly vaccinated populations such as England and Israel,” Gloor wrote in his online petition to urge a vaccine mandate at Western. “It is estimated that unless we have high vaccination rates, likely exceeding 90 [per cent], we will continue to be vulnerable to outbreaks.”

While Western was one of the first post-secondary institutions to announce mandatory vaccinations for students who wish to live in on-campus residences, Western cited legal concerns in moving forward with a campus-wide vaccine policy. 

“That took courage, and I want to acknowledge that,” Gloor said about Western’s decision to enforce a vaccination policy in residences. “I don't think that they're unaware of the problem, and I don't think that they're opposed to the solution, ... but their hands have to be tied at some level, for sure.”

Some Ontario institutions like Seneca College and took the leap and announced mandatory vaccinations for their campus communities in recent weeks. Many post-secondary members have urged their administrations to do the same. 

Faculty members, the University of Western Ontario’s Faculty Association, King’s University College Faculty Association and the Teaching Assistants and Postdoctoral Researchers Union, PSAC 610, have all shown support for mandatory vaccines. Beth MacDougall-Shackleton, Western biology professor and former UWOFA president, has been especially outspoken on the issue, urging university administrators to “step up and introduce restrictions on the unvaccinated,” she said in a tweet.

The Middlesex-London Health Unit will support Western in a move to make vaccines mandatory, said Dr. Alex Summers, the MLHU’s associate medical officer of health, at a media briefing Thursday.

“Maximizing vaccine uptake is absolutely critical to a safe return to campuses and to classrooms,” Dr. Summers said. “We do support policies that maximize vaccine uptake, and that can include mandatory vaccine policies.”

The ministry’s memo did come with some caveats to prepare colleges and universities to move online in the case of further community outbreaks.  

“In case of COVID-19 outbreaks, institutions must have a "continuity of education" plan ready by September, including information on health protocols in the event of an emergency and how instruction will continue if in-person learning is disrupted,” reported CBC news.

Gloor urges other post-secondary institutions to push for vaccine mandates as well to ensure the safety of their campus communities. 

“The next step is that we — and by we I mean not just people at Western, but … all the people that are involved and engaged in the post-secondary education sector in Ontario — have to take the fight to the premier and the Minister of Health and the Minister of colleges and universities to let them know that they're enabling a ticking time bomb,” he said.

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