The Ontario government recently announced that it is rolling back its vaccine mandate, though it will continue to support universities that choose to maintain vaccine mandate policies. It added that it will encourage students to get their third dose before returning to campus.

Some university organizations, like the University of Toronto Faculty Association (UTFA), have expressed concerns about these developments. U of T has stated that it will maintain vaccine mandates until at least the end of term. 

Future of mandates

In an email to The Varsity, Bethany Osborne, director of communications for the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities, wrote that even though vaccine mandate policies are no longer required by the Ontario government, universities still have the right to instill such policies as legally autonomous institutions. Osborne added that university vaccine mandates are supported by the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health

She wrote that as the government eases public health restrictions, students are still encouraged to get their third dose before returning to campus to protect both themselves and others. Osborne also noted that the rate of vaccination in university communities is already relatively high. 

Moreover, even though the government is no longer requiring universities to enforce vaccine mandates, a U of T spokesperson wrote in an email to The Varsity that the Council of Ontario Universities — an organization meant to provide a forum for Ontario universities to discuss and promote their interests — has chosen to maintain its vaccination policies until at least the end of the term, to avoid causing uncertainty through abrupt policy switches.

Community response

The UTFA has expressed concerns about the province’s announcement. In an email to The Varsity, UTFA President Terezia Zorić noted that the association’s members “overwhelmingly support vaccine mandates.” She added that experts who advise the association do as well.

“Dismantling the University vaccine mandate would needlessly intensify the risks facing students, staff, faculty, librarians, and the broader community,” Zorić wrote.

According to Zorić, the UTFA also fears that the government will choose to remove mask requirements — a decision that the association believes would be a risk to public health. If that were to happen, she wrote, the UTFA would support the university maintaining mask requirements.