President Steenkamp: The importance of vaccinations

We are making very good progress in getting people vaccinated in BC and in Canada. In fact, Canada is one of the countries leading the world in terms of vaccination rates, with over 64 per cent of the population fully vaccinated. However, there’s always room for improvement. I urge everyone who can to get fully vaccinated. This is our best protection against COVID and the more people who get vaccinated the better.

At the same time, we have seen an increase in the number of COVID cases in BC, driven mainly by the Delta variant and initially focused in the Interior Health Region. These cases are overwhelmingly among the unvaccinated population, and while the hospitalization rate has fallen dramatically — it is now similar for COVID as it is for the seasonal flu — this is obviously something to monitor closely.

For now we will proceed with our current plans to resume on-campus programming and services in the Fall, following the Return to Campus guidelines approved by the Provincial Health Officer. As I’ve detailed previously there are an array of measures, including cleaning protocols, physical barriers and improved ventilation, in place to enhance the safety of our community. Our plans are, of course, subject to change depending on changing circumstances and revised guidance from the PHO.

There has been much discussion about masking requirements, testing and vaccine mandates on campuses, and I know these are issues of concern for many of you. We are actively discussing these topics with public health officials. I anticipate we will get additional guidance on the wearing of masks in high-congregate areas on campuses in the days ahead.

On the issue of a vaccine mandate, this is a complex topic which requires careful consideration. While some universities outside BC have announced they will require everyone to be vaccinated or be subject to frequent testing, there are generally many exemptions available and significant challenges around enforceability. We need to put in place measures and policies that are evidence- based, and not simply performative, in order to ensure the highest level of protection for our community. There is an ongoing discussion on the issue of a vaccine mandate for post-secondary campuses with the PHO and I am hoping to see guidance on this which will address the concerns we have raised.

It is important to note that we’ve been asked not to introduce COVID prevention measures that are different from those supported by public health professionals. While we might have different opinions about how to proceed or what actions to take at any given moment, I do believe that we need to trust the public health officials who have years of training and expertise on these matters and, indeed, require a license to practice public health. There has been a concerted attack on expertise across the globe in the last few years and I believe that we, as a university, need to defend and support the experts.

I want to thank those of you who remained working on campus throughout the pandemic and also those who worked from home. Your dedication, commitment and flexibility have been extraordinary and have ensured our success through these last challenging months. As I’ve previously stated, there is much to be gained from working together in person and I am so pleased to see more of you back on campus. I look forward to welcoming back the rest of our community over the next few months.

We will continue to implement a thoughtful, phased return. As always, we will adapt our approach if circumstances warrant a change and, of course, make accommodations for those who are unable to return to campus for health and other reasons.

This has been and continues to be a very challenging time for many of us. It’s important for us to recognize what we’ve been through and to support each other.  Indeed, empathy needs to be at the core of our thinking and our actions. In the Fall, we will be putting in place additional support and counselling services to assist anyone dealing with anxiety and the challenges that come with managing change and uncertainty. I am confident that working together we will be able to overcome any obstacles and move ahead guided, as always, by our values of caring, creativity and courage.