When U of T announced its plans to resume in-person activities in February, many students and campus groups voiced their concerns about inadequate safety and accommodations. However, there’s an important point that has gotten little attention so far — requiring booster shots to return to campus.
The university rightfully required all community members to have two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine by October 15 to be on campus. They are now encouraging everyone to get their booster shots and upload their documentation to UCheck. However, the university should go further, and mandate that everyone receive a booster dose before returning to in-person activities in February — unless they can prove that they have recently had COVID-19, in which case the National Advisory Committee on Immunization has advised that they wait three months before receiving the shot.
Some students have already expressed concern about the necessity of booster shots for a return to campus. Yet the latest data from the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table shows that only 30 per cent of people aged 18 to 29 have gotten their booster. Everyone over the age of 18 is now eligible for their booster 84 days after they got their second dose. It’s been well over 84 days since October 15 — the date when all U of T community members were expected to have two doses — so everyone 18 or older at U of T should be eligible for their booster.
Both major opposition political parties in Ontario — the New Democratic Party and Liberal Party — have called on the provincial government to require third doses in order for people to be considered fully vaccinated by Ontario’s vaccine certificate system. A U of T spokesperson explained in an email that the university is currently “continuing to follow the guidance of public health officials on the definition of fully vaccinated.”
There is no need for U of T to wait — especially for guidance from a government with a track record of implementing delayed and inadequate measures throughout the pandemic. The science is clear on the improved protection a third dose provides against infection. Mandating third doses before returning to campus will improve safety for everyone.
Despite the necessity of booster shots for a return to campus, some students, faculty, and staff still face barriers to getting vaccinated. U of T should do everything it can to make shots accessible to its community. Vaccine clinics at the Exam Centre — which are open to the general public — and Discovery Pharmacy — which are open exclusively to the U of T community — have reopened at UTSG. However, there are no on-campus clinics at UTM or UTSC, even though the two campuses had such clinics open back in spring 2021. The university should — alongside its community health care partners — reopen all the tri-campus clinics and reserve blocks of scheduled or walk-in appointment times for university members who still need boosters.
Two years into the pandemic, students are frustrated, both by how long COVID-19 has disrupted our lives and by the inability of governments and institutions to successfully adapt to and accommodate the challenges of the pandemic. For many students — including me — half of our university years have been affected by COVID-19.
As graduation approaches this coming June, many students are wondering how we would celebrate the conclusion of our unique and challenging university journey. Following four successive online ceremonies since June 2020, the university will decide the format of the June convocation this March.
Barring a disastrous epidemiological situation, the June 2022 convocation must be held in person. Many students are exhausted and demoralized after two years with no clear end to the pandemic in sight. Fall 2021 was a much needed respite, where many pre-pandemic joys — such as in-person classes and on-campus social events and interactions — finally returned for a while before yet another round of closures. An in-person convocation would be another crucial light at the end of the tunnel.
Holding another virtual convocation is the easy route to avoid all the possible risks of a large gathering. However, after two years, the onus is on decision-makers to have figured out how to mitigate the risks of such events as much as possible without resorting to virtual alternatives. Convocation is a once-in-a-lifetime moment, as significant as a wedding or the birth of a child. It deserves to be marked by more than simply a pre-recorded video where you might miss your name on a rolling credits screen if you blink or use the bathroom.
Ideally, the ceremonies should be held in Convocation Hall. Hopefully, the ongoing Front Campus construction would not hinder the university’s ability to use the building. A pandemic taking away this experience may be understandable, but construction doing so would be unacceptable.
Each college, faculty, or campus’ graduating class of students should be able to celebrate together with their loved ones. However, if the pandemic makes this infeasible, then at the very least, students need to still have the chance to mark the occasion with each other. If it is too risky to have the entire graduating class at one venue, there could be many smaller ceremonies held across U of T’s campuses instead. More intimate ceremonies that involve smaller groups of peers, in buildings that students have been more closely connected to during their time at U of T, might create more heartfelt memories.
Whatever the solution is for a safe, in-person convocation, U of T must work to implement it. The pandemic has defined our university experience and our coming-of-age years. It has taken a lot from us — but let’s not have it take away the last and biggest moment in this chapter of our lives.
Oliver Zhao is a fourth-year criminology and international relations student at Woodsworth College. He is the current secretary of the Woodsworth College Students’ Association.