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Western University pushes back COVID-19 booster deadline after bivalent vaccine approval

A deadline imposed by Western University requiring staff and students returning to campus to have received a COVID-19 booster shot by the start of October has been pushed back until the new year.

The university says the decision comes in response to the approval by Health Canada last week of Moderna’s bivalent COVID-19 vaccine targeting both the original novel coronavirus and the original Omicron variant.

Instead of Oct. 1, students, faculty and staff are now required to submit current proof of vaccination to the school by Jan. 9, 2023.

“This booster deadline extension reflects the new Health Canada information and is supported by our experts,” Florentine Strzelczyk, provost and VP (academic) for Western, said in a statement.

“It also responds to the call from our student leaders to provide more time for students in residence to be vaccinated.”

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In Ontario, initial shipments of the bivalent vaccine will be limited, with those most vulnerable, including long-term care residents and staff, receiving the vaccine first.

Health Canada says there will be enough supply of the shots for all Canadians 18 and older to get a dose this fall and winter.

Western unveiled its vaccine mandate for the new school year in late August, becoming the only university in the country to mandate booster shots for all staff and students on campus.

Most Ontario universities have not imposed vaccine or mask mandates for the fall semester, and the province has lifted proof-of-vaccination rules in public spaces.

Students and staff are required to have had at least three COVID-19 shots and must wear medical-grade masks in classrooms and seminar rooms. The mandate only stipulates one booster dose, however, Ontario adults are eligible for the second.

Western says with the extended deadline, those on campus can either get the bivalent shot once they become available, or get boosted now with the current vaccine to be eligible for a bivalent vaccine in 90 days.

“According to medical experts, while the current boosters provide solid protection against severe illness and hospitalization and reduce transmission, the campus community will have better overall protection throughout the year if more people receive one of the new bivalent vaccines when they become available,” university officials said in a statement on Tuesday.

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Western’s decision was praised by the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association, however some, including the head of the University Student Council, voiced concern about the announcement coming so soon before the start of the school year.

“The timeline is definitely a piece that we’re hearing a lot about,” Ethan Gardner told The Canadian Press in a phone interview last month. “Maybe if the information was delivered a bit earlier, it may have been easier.”

Western’s announcement also prompted an anti-vaccine mandate demonstration on campus, organized by Kendra Hancock and a student group dubbed “students4agency.”

The demonstration saw hundreds of attendees, including several prominent COVID-19 mandate opponents, such as Pastor Henry Hildebrandt of Aylmer’s Church of God and Dr. Matt Strauss, Haldimand-Norfolk’s acting medical officer of health.

Western has said its mandate plan was informed by “consultation with our medical experts and the Western community,” noting that other North American universities, including Brown, Columbia and Harvard, have implemented similar policy decisions.

Two of Western’s three affiliated colleges are aligning with the university’s masking and vaccination policies, with Brescia University College the lone outlier.

Across town, Fanshawe College is also not requiring masks or updated vaccinations, with roughly 65 per cent of its classes in person compared to roughly 90 per cent at Western.

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— with files from The Canadian Press

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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