Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Vaccine mandates vary between tertiary educator providers

New Zealand’s tertiary education providers are taking different approaches to making Covid-19 vaccination compulsory.

New Zealand Union of Students’ Association is concerned about potential inequities and the confusion it’s causing and wants more Government guidance.

In mid-October, Victoria University of Wellington announced Covid-19 vaccination will be a requirement for halls of residence next year.

The university is also completing a risk assessment and consulting with staff and students on a mandate for campuses from next February, a spokesperson said.

Vaccination will be mandatory for University of Otago residential colleges and university-managed accommodation next year.

Chief Operating Officer Stephen Willis said the decision was made after consultation and health and safety risk assessment.

The university is also consulting with staff about vaccination, a spokesperson said.

From January 4th, vaccination will be a condition of entry for University of Auckland campuses, it announced in early November.

After consultation, the University of Waikato announced it will require the same from February 14th.

AUT’s announced students will need to be vaccinated to be eligible for student accommodation next year – as will accommodation staff, contractors and visitors.

When it comes to campuses the university is “taking the Government’s lead” and will respond to each traffic light level requirement, a spokesperson said.

The Tertiary Education Commission outlines that vaccination is a requirement for onsite delivery at the red level, open with public health measures at orange and open at green.

The University of Canterbury will follow the TEC guidelines as they’re developed and is strongly encouraging staff and students to get vaccinated, a spokesperson said.

Lincoln University is putting out a proposal to staff and students for consultation this week, a spokesperson said.

Massey University’s completed a comprehensive risk assessment and is currently consulting with staff, students, mana whenua and the wider university community.

It’s recommending it be a requirement for everyone accessing campuses and sites from February 14th, a spokesperson said.

Te Pūkenga, the national organisation bringing together the country’s 16 polytechnics and transitional industry training organisations, is considering requiring vaccines.

It’s prepared a draft statement being shared with subsidiary chief executives and will be confirmed by the Te Pūkenga Council December 7th.

Universities New Zealand Chief Executive Chris Whelan said the decision’s been up to each provider as there’s no national mandate requiring university vaccination.

Whelan said they’ve expressed “a strong preference” that a mandate would’ve been helpful, but respect that the Government’s only implemented them where it’s been “absolutely necessary” for health.

NZUSA President Andrew Lessells is disappointed at the lack of Government guidance.

“Tertiary institutions, though they have public health experts working at them, they’re not experts in public health.

“They’re not necessarily experts, as none of us are, in how vaccination mandates should be rolled out.

“The fact that some institutions have mandates and some don’t, and there’s no real clarity as to why, is confusing for us and that’s why we’d love to see more certainty from Government.”

Even if the Government doesn’t enforce a sector mandate, they’d like guidance around how providers should be having these conversations because so far, they’ve been “woefully inconsistent”, Lessells said.

Lessells is also keen for Government clarity on how unvaccinated students can continue studies as there could be inequitable outcomes with some providers already better prepared for distance learning.

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