Following a consultation process, the University of Waikato has decided to make Covid-19 vaccination compulsory for staff, students and contractors accessing its campus and sites.
The requirement will apply from 14 February 2022, giving the University time to implement the infrastructure and processes needed to put it into practice, and those who are hesitant about receiving the vaccine time to seek further information or an official exemption, or to await the availability of the AstraZeneca vaccine or another Ministry of Health approved alternative.
Vice-Chancellor Professor Neil Quigley says the consultation period with the University’s community of staff, the staff and student unions, students in the Halls of Residents and contractors was a valuable step, with an overwhelming majority of respondents supporting vaccination as the most effective way to ensure the University is a safe environment.
“I am extremely proud of the way the University, its staff and students have responded to the significant disruptions of the past two years and this decision is something the vast majority of our people support. This is the right way for us to move forward from having to constantly and quickly adapt to lockdowns and changing circumstances.”
The Government has indicated it will not be developing further legislation around Covid-19 vaccination in the tertiary sector beyond what is already required under the ‘red’ setting of the new Covid-19 Protection Framework, which stipulates tertiary institutions can only operate in face-to-face settings with the use of vaccine passes.
Professor Quigley says this leaves each university to make its own decisions based on the context of the environment it operates in. He says the prospect of potentially moving in and out of the red setting and the associated costs and logistics of being on campus intermittently are strong arguments for applying the requirements of the red setting across the board.
“Requiring vaccination regardless of the setting we are at provides certainty that we can safely remain open as a place of work and study no matter what level of the framework we are at, subject to any localised lockdowns under the Covid-19 Protection Framework, and ensures a safe environment for our whole University community, in particular those who are unable to be vaccinated.
“We have staff and students with children under the age of 12 at home, who have contact with lots of different people through their study or their jobs away from study, or who are responsible or care for people who are at high risk.”
As well as developing its vaccination requirement approach, the University has also been working with the hundreds of its staff covered by the vaccination health order for those engaged with the health and disability, education and corrections sectors. The orders will also impact some students, such as those studying education, social work and nursing. The University believes the most effective way to manage and support these requirements is if all staff and students are vaccinated.
In tandem with consulting with staff and students, the University also carried out an extensive health and safety risk assessment, which identified that the nature of the activities undertaken on campus put the University at a higher level of overall risk of spreading Covid-19.
Professor Quigley says the combination of the risk assessment, feedback from staff and students and the existing vaccination requirements of the incoming protection framework make the University’s decision the most appropriate.
“We have a legal and ethical responsibility to keep our staff, students and wider community safe when they are on campus. For every person who told us they may not feel safe receiving the vaccine, many more told us they’d feel safer on campus knowing everyone around them is vaccinated.”