Uni proposes vaccine mandate for all

The University of Otago is proposing making Covid-19 vaccinations, or government-approved exemptions, compulsory for all staff, students, contractors and visitors next year.

Consultation with staff has begun and a decision will be announced next Tuesday.

If approved, the requirement would come into effect from January 10.

The university has already decided upon mandatory vaccinations for those staying in its residential colleges next year, and also has several staff, students and buildings affected by the Government’s public health order for health and education workers and workplaces.

Acting vice-chancellor Prof Helen Nicholson told staff in an email yesterday that the position paper had been developed after "weeks of consideration of our situation, new Government regulations, initial feedback from all staff and feedback from student representatives".

"It also takes account of possible developments in Covid-19 itself, including the potential appearance and spread of new and more virulent strains.

"As previously signalled, university leadership firmly believes that vaccination against Covid-19 is critical for keeping our community safe."

If a mandate was put in place, students and staff who had government-approved vaccine exemptions would be able to attend study and work as usual.

Staff who chose not to be vaccinated would be able to discuss their employment options with the university, while students who chose not to be vaccinated might be able to choose from a limited range of online study options.

Prof Nicholson said if the policy was approved, students would need to have had their vaccine passes verified in the university’s system before they could complete their enrolment.

All staff vaccine passes would also be verified.

It was expected existing contractor approval process would require vaccine verification and all buildings would have signage for visitors outlining the vaccination policy.

Once New Zealand moved into the traffic light system at 11.59pm today, all staff, students and visitors would need to show their My Vaccine Pass to enter campus cafes, food outlets and university recreation facilities.

A survey on how comfortable university staff would feel on campus if everyone was vaccinated showed strong support for vaccines, and only 3% of staff said they disagreed or strongly disagreed, Prof Nicholson said.

Consultation with student organisations, the Otago University Students’ Association (OUSA), Te Roopu Maori O Te Whare Wananga O Otago and the University of Otago Pacific Island Students’ Association also confirmed support for vaccinations.

OUSA president Michaela Waite-Harvey said the association supported the decision.

"We will continue to work with the university to ensure any unvaccinated students have the provision of online learning and pastoral care which is necessary to ensure education is open to all."

 - daisy.hudson@odt.co.nz