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Egan: The universities may just be lighting the way back to normal

Egan: The universities may just be lighting the way back to normal

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The University of Ottawa introduced a new mandatory vaccine policy with effect from 7 September. The Frosh week news? It actually works.

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Although it’s early days, here’s the bottom line for Garnet-and-Gray’s home: zero cases are reported on a campus with approximately 20,000 students and staff in daily attendance. (Fortunately, Carleton University is in the same boat.)

In August, Downtown University was the first in Canada to announce mandatory vaccination rules for the entire university community. They require everyone who is part of uOttawa (students, staff, visitors), whether on campus or not, to complete an online “declaration” tool.

There are no armed guards on Laurier Avenue checking everyone’s compliance, so there is clearly a “buy-in” to be done and there are no iron-clad ways to prevent individuals from bypassing the system.

However, as of Tuesday morning, more than 48,000 applicants had used the online tool, including 38,080 students, figures that media communications chief Isabelle Mailloux said the university is “proud” to report.

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Of those, 90 percent of applicants said they were fully vaccinated. Among faculties and employees, the percentage was even higher, 96.

Those who had requested “accommodation” – e.g. Working from home or having a medical exemption – was less than three percent. (The policy requires that those seeking exemption for legitimate reasons be tested twice a week.)

Finally, and here’s the good news, only 0.06 percent or less than 30 people said they refused to be vaccinated in a workforce of about 7,000.

Interestingly, by comparison, Ottawa Hospital accidentally revealed last week that about 390 of the workforce of about 10,000 have still not been vaccinated.

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Because a university is like a village — living, working, playing in one place — it is tempting to think that the university has found the ideal policy to create a COVID-free campus while accommodating those who are not ready to dive back into a pre-pandemic routine.

But a warning about the early results that we turned to the University of Ottawa epidemiologist Raywat Deonandan, a man who is pretty good with numbers and all sorts of COVID.

The obvious weakness, he points out, is that the figures do not indicate how many employees or students do not use the tool at all – and therefore are not counted in the resulting percentages.

“Clearly, they report that 0.06% of the responses submitted are hardcore anti-waxers,” he said in a written response.

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“But we do not know what proportion of the total university community the submitted answers represent. The submitted responses always came to take over sample-pro-vaccination people. ”

He added that the high compliance rate should not be surprising in an educational institution with a strong health care and medical component.

The latter raises another interesting question: How does the vaccine’s compliance with the profession break?

A very large U.S. survey conducted online in 2021 showed that vaccination doubts were around nine percent in the field of education, but 14.5 percent for nurses and technicians (and as high as 45 percent in the construction industry). And for several months, educators were consistently the least hesitant among all the major professions.

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(Canadian data roughly indicate that about one in ten healthcare professionals oppose full vaccination.)

Figures from local school boards are also encouraging, with around nine out of 10 staff reporting full vaccination at the September restart of the academic calendar.

On Wednesday, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board reported that 96.9 percent of those who issued “certificates” said they were fully vaccinated. However, these numbers come with the same caution: about 1,600 employees, or 13.5 percent, had not completed the online form.

There, too, the results have been positive, but not perfect: as of Wednesday noon, there were four active cases in the row of 12,000 employees, six among the 70,000 students.

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The University of Ottawa is one of the first major public institutions in the city to have attempted a “back-to-normal-ish” routine with a mandatory vaccination policy (for space reasons we will set aside Carleton U, Algonquin College for now)) .

So lessons are taking shape, especially for the federal public service, the city’s largest employer, which so far is only taking baby steps.

PS seems to be aiming for a version of the university model: staged, full time in the office for some, a hybrid housing / office option for others; compulsory vaccination in any office / group; regular testing for those who do not want or cannot be vaccinated; reorganization or retraining for those who cannot be accommodated; possible discipline, even dismissal, for those who refuse to meet the employer halfway.

When we go together – a terrible, sympathetic eye on Alberta – could it be possible, institutionally speaking, that we are doing some things right?

To contact Kelly Egan, please call 613-291-6265 or email [email protected]

Twitter.com/kellyegancolumn

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