Students will not need to be vaccinated to attend fall classes

Campus News

Vaccine certificates will only apply to students living on campus, student athletes, and other extracurricular activities deemed “non-essential”

COVID-19 vaccine graphic
Graphic by Sie Douglas-Fish.

This story was published on Tuesday, August 24. Since then, we’ve published a new story that reflects UVic’s latest announcement: students, faculty, and staff will either have to be fully vaccinated or participate in rapid testing.

With just two weeks remaining before the fall semester begins, the B.C. government recently announced that masks will now be required in all indoor public spaces — including on university campuses. Vaccines, however, will not be required to attend classes. 

“The pandemic has been difficult on students, faculty and staff at B.C.’s colleges, institutes and universities, and with these added measures we can continue to move forward and come back together safely,” said Anne Kang, the minister of advanced education and skills training. 

The B.C government left it open for universities to enact their own policies on vaccinations. However, Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said that these policies can only apply to staff — universities cannot make vaccines mandatory for students.

Henry said during the announcement that social settings are where transmission is occurring. She also added that the B.C. government does not want to restrict access to education.

“It’s vitally important for post-secondary students that we resume in-person learning to support young people’s well-being, and with these added measures and increasing vaccination rates, we are confident we can do so,” Henry said.

Vaccines certificates required for some extracurricular activities

While vaccination will not be required to attend classes, some campus settings will require proof of vaccination with B.C.’s new vaccine certificate mandate. Vaccine certificates will be required for: 

  • Campus gyms and fitness centers
  • Campus pubs, including patios
  • Indoor club events and ticketed sporting events
  • Indoor theatre events and concerts 
  • Indoor organized gatherings like parties, conferences, and workshops

Varsity athletes and students living in residence will also need to be vaccinated, along with students in health sciences programs that complete practicums in health care settings. UVic will have a vaccination clinic on campus for students looking to get the vaccine.

A new website will be unveiled soon that will allow people to download their vaccination certificates onto their phones. This will differ from the physical vaccine cards that were given to vaccine recipients at the time of their vaccination. In order to access certain public services in B.C., these digital certificates will be required to show that people have received at least one dose as of Sept. 13. For those living on campus, the certificates will be required as of Sept. 7 when classes begin. According to Henry, there will be no exemptions to the certificate requirement. 

Students vaccinated internationally will have to show their valid passport alongside their ArrivalCAN proof of vaccination. Students from out of province will need to show their I.D. from that province and a provincially recognized record of their vaccination.

“The province’s vaccination policy applies to international as well as domestic students,” Denise Helm, UVic’s acting executive director of communications and marketing, said. “There are many students who will have received vaccinations in other jurisdictions, and the province will have a system set up to verify any out-of-province vaccinations.” 

Henry noted that the vaccination certificate program will come into effect amid a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases. 

B.C. is currently experiencing its fourth wave of COVID-19 infections. Of the over 5 000 active COVID-19 cases in B.C., the province says approximately 90 per cent of them are among unvaccinated people, and that unvaccinated people also make up 93 per cent of COVID-19 hospitalizations. 

In case of outbreak

Of the approximately 20 000 students that are expected to return to campus, about 2 100 will be living in residence. 

UVic’s associate vice-president of human resources, Kane Kilbey, joined the Martlet for an Instagram Live interview last week to discuss the possibility of an outbreak among UVic’s student population.

“What’s happened in the past when we’ve had cases in student housing, because we had 800 students in housing over the past year, is that we work very closely with Island Health to manage those and to look after the students that are ill and to help those who need to self-isolate,” said Kilbey. 

Among those 800 residents for the 2020-2021 school year, multiple COVID-19 cases were reported on campus last year. Cases were reported at the Sir Arthur Currie Residence and the UVic School of Music. UVic and Island Health declined to note how many cases were reported or how many students were isolated, citing concerns over privacy. 

This school year, there are not going to be any beds available for isolation in residence buildings. 125 beds were originally set aside, but due to student demand and the easing of restrictions over the summer, UVic assigned those additional rooms to students. 

“Detailed planning for the fall term has been underway for several months,” Helm said. “As we work closely with provincial officials to prepare to come together on campus. That planning includes having appropriate spaces in student housing to isolate students living on campus if they have symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or test positive.”

UVic students react to return to campus plans

Many UVic students were anxiously awaiting today’s announcement. Although some expressed frustration at the patchwork nature of the vaccine certificates, students welcome the mask mandate. 

“The mask mandate eases some of my fears about returning to campus,” Salem Farmer, a third-year student, said. “I already have both my vaccines so needing the vaccine passport to enter certain places doesn’t affect me much.”

“Being a visual arts student, we are working in very close quarters,” said third-year student Erin Hartley. “I want us to have as much protection as we can get…I’m frustrated; [the announcement is] making UVic safer for getting drunk on campus but not for learning on campus.”

UVic president Kevin Hall posted a video addressing concerns and providing an update about the fall return. 

“The rise of the delta variant has required [UVic] and the province to take a close look at our plans,” Hall said. “I know that uncertainty has been stressful for many of us but I believe that we are in a good place…especially with the new B.C. vaccine card and the indoor mask mandate.”

Hall added that more updates will be posted shortly and encouraged students to get vaccinated. As of August 7, 56 per cent of British Columbians ages 18-29 have been fully vaccinated. Hall said the university will be circulating a survey soon to determine the actual rate of vaccination among the campus community. 

For updates on the Return to Campus, follow the Martlet on Instagram or Twitter.