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Provincial guidelines on vaccination have not been updated to reflect diminishing vaccine effectiveness and booster shots. Image: Hannah Vigneux/Fulcrum
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University of Ottawa’s Students’ Union pushes for action, asks University to take greater measures

Ontario’s rollout of booster shots amidst the rise of COVID-19’s Omicron variant has posed an important question: does fully vaccinated still mean two doses?

Currently, every member of the University of Ottawa, including students, faculty, and staff are required to certify that they have received two COVID-19 vaccinations using the COVID-19 Vaccination Declaration online tool.  

However, it has been proven that the efficacy of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines diminishes significantly six months after the second dose is administered. Furthermore, folks who have received a booster shot have much less risk of developing symptoms from the Omicron variant or being hospitalized.

In spite of this, the University of Ottawa has decided to maintain status quo and mandate students and staff receive two COVID-19 vaccinations to enter campus.

At this time, according to current public health guidelines, the definition of ‘fully vaccinated’ has not changed,” wrote a University spokesperson in an email.

The Ontario Ministry of Health considers individuals as fully vaccinated against COVID-19 if they have received: 

  1. The full series of a COVID-19 vaccine authorized by Health Canada, or any combination of such vaccines;
  1. One or two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine not authorized by Health Canada, followed by one dose of a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine authorized by Health Canada, or;
  1. Three doses of a COVID-19 vaccine not authorized by Health Canada; and… Received their final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at least 14 days before providing the proof of being fully vaccinated.

“The University continues to monitor the situation closely, and will continue to update its policies in alignment with public health guidelines,” wrote the spokesperson.

The University has received some pushback for this decision especially from its undergraduate student union which has called on the Central Administration to implement a third dose vaccination mandate for the winter semester. 

In a statement, the University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU) explained that its proposed new vaccine mandate would make all students, staff, and faculty safer. 

“If all students on campus were boosted, there would be less infections, less community transmission of the Omicron variant, and less students and professors missing in-person classes,” reads the statement.

In the same statement, UOSU calls for the University to procure KF94 and KN95 masks for students, as well as to provide COVID-19 rapid tests for students living in residences. The statement also calls on the University to transparently report all outbreaks of COVID-19 on campus, record all in-person courses, and suspend mandatory attendance.

Obstacles for the vaccinated

A survey taken by UOSU has shown that the student body is divided on this issue, with 49 per cent of students opposed to returning to campus under the current COVID-19 conditions, and 46 per cent of students in support.

Students have also reported technical issues with uploading their vaccination status through the University’s online tool. 

Fourth-year English literature student Isabelle Loranger has faced many issues with the University’s automated system for accepting vaccine declarations. Having been vaccinated in her home province of British Columbia made it especially difficult for the system to recognize Loranger’s vaccination status. 

“I got kicked out of classes that were hybrid, that on uoZone were written as being in-person. I kept trying to submit my vaccine passport over and over again in the system, and for it to finally work I had to contact multiple people and go through a whole chain of events,” said Loranger.

Loranger wishes that there was an easier way to go about it, especially with the University offering and advertising more in-person classes.

Loranger has been trying to get this issue resolved since September 2021 and is still waiting for her status to be accepted.

The University recommends that students who may have received some or all of their doses out of the province visit the Government of Canada website for information on how to obtain their proof of vaccination from every Canadian province or territory.