Educators must ensure campuses are safe from COVID-19

In order for educational institutions to open their doors safely this fall, I believe all students and staff need to be fully immunized before they are allowed on campus.

Recently, Seneca College was the first in Ontario to declare such a requirement. It is possible now because we have enough vaccines. Educational institutions also have the option of allowing people to work from home and students to learn online.

I believe the evidence is now available that shows that those who are not vaccinated are at greater risk to themselves and to others.

We of course have supporters of the absence of such requirements, but I suggest that if we want privileges, we have to take responsibility. This is the case when we want to drive a vehicle in our society. We have to take an exam and prove that we are sure we have this right. It is not a question of freedoms or rights against responsibility but of freedoms and responsibility towards others. The same should be true in the field of public health.

I think educational institutions should have the right to require proof before allowing staff or students on campus, not only in residence but for all activities on campus. I would suggest that one way to do this would be for OHIP to provide each fully vaccinated person with a receipt to show that they have been so vaccinated. If a person chooses to do so outside the province, they should be required to provide documentation. It is not too heavy a burden. Exceptions for health reasons can be made and each institution should have a rigorous process for considering such requests.

We see many states south of our border in the United States that have chosen to return without demands and their rates of illness are significantly higher. It is clear that serious illness and death are preventable not only for the individual taking the risk, but for others. It is time to support such demands, including for anyone wishing to enter the country. They should not be allowed to enter the country without having been vaccinated and without proof. I want our border to be opened as soon as possible but safely.

Since there are regions that will not comply with these requirements, it is very possible that the variants will continue to mutate for the foreseeable future. Therefore, we may need to have a renewal process like we do for driver’s licenses.

It is obvious, I hope to most people, that in order for us to get back to any semblance of interactive activity in the doors, we need to have some safeguards in place. Unfortunately, it is not enough to repair ventilation systems or to wear masks. We have to be proactive.

I want to start traveling again, to eat, to share experiences with others. We just have to go back to work, go back to school, go back to socializing with family and friends. I don’t know of a safer way to do this other than getting us all vaccinated. Now that supply is not the problem, we should be able to do it. It is time not only for all of us as individuals to accept this, but also for institutional leaders to clearly state this responsibility.

I am aware that politicians in the midst of pre-election maneuvering will be careful not to upset opponents. It is up to institutional leaders to instill safe practices and each of us to support best health practices.

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Brian Desbiens is the past president of Fleming College. Its column appears monthly.
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