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Less than one per cent of U of T students requested vax mandate exemption

TORONTO — Less than one per cent of the 8,400 University of Toronto students living on campus have requested an exemption to its triple-COVID-19-shot mandate, the school said Wednesday.
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A person carrying a University of Toronto Book Store shopping bag walks on the University of Toronto campus in Toronto, on Sept. 8, 2020. Less than one per cent of the 8,400 University of Toronto students living on campus have requested an exemption to its triple-COVID-19-shot mandate, the school said Wednesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

TORONTO — Less than one per cent of the 8,400 University of Toronto students living on campus have requested an exemption to its triple-COVID-19-shot mandate, the school said Wednesday.

The university did not say how many exemption requests have been granted, or how many students have not had a booster dose, but said the "vast majority" of those living on campus received three shots before arriving.

“The decision to require a booster dose – which is consistent with the province’s booster recommendation – was made to support the health and well-being of students in residence and enable them to get the most out of their on-campus experience,” the university wrote in a statement.

“The vast majority of students in residence were able to be vaccinated with a booster prior to moving into residence.”

U of T announced this summer that all students living in residence would need to have three shots of a COVID-19 vaccine upon arrival.

The school said it is continuing to support students who are in the process of getting a third shot, including by holding on-campus vaccination clinics.

"There are many reasons that students are not yet able to get their booster shot – they are not yet due for the booster based on the Canadian vaccination schedule, the availability of the bivalent booster, or because they recently had COVID-19," it said.

"Numbers continue to change as we work with students in our residences to obtain their required vaccines."

Western University has also mandated three doses, but for all students and employees, not just those living on campus -- the only university in Canada to do so.

The London, Ont., school did not provide numbers Wednesday on how many students have already submitted proof of their booster shots ahead of a January deadline, or how many have asked for exemptions to the policy.

Earlier this month, Western extended the deadline to submit proof of vaccination from Oct. 1 to Jan. 9, 2023, after Health Canada approved the Omicron-targeting vaccine, which became available to all adults in Ontario this week.

"This provided members of the campus community the option to get a booster shot in early September or one of the new bivalent vaccines when available or to get boosted in early September with the current vaccine in order to be eligible again in 90 days for a bivalent vaccine," the university said in a statement Wednesday.

Western did not say whether any students who have refused to comply with the mandate have faced consequences, but said students are able to withdraw and receive a refund without giving a reason.

In August, a protest against Western's mandate drew hundreds of people to campus, including students who criticized the university's decision to announce the policy days before the start of the school year and at a time when mandates have been lifted in nearly all other settings. Some in attendance vowed to push to overturn it.

In their Wednesday statement, Western noted that a recent ruling by the Ontario Superior Court on a challenge by five students supported the university's vaccine mandate.

"The court’s finding supports Western’s position that the collection of proof of vaccination is necessary for the effective administration of our vaccination policy. Vaccination is an important measure in protecting our community members and preserving our in-person learning experience," the school said.

Trent University is also requiring those living in residence to have two doses. The three schools are virtually the only places in Canada that remain subject to a vaccine mandate.

Earlier this week, the federal government announced that proof of mandatory vaccination will be lifted at Canada's borders as of Saturday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 28, 2022.

Sharif Hassan, The Canadian Press

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