La Trobe is first Australian university to require vaccination

Melbourne university cites occupational health obligations and students’ desperation to return to campus

九月 21, 2021
Source: iStock

An Australian university will mandate coronavirus vaccination as a precondition for being on campus, in the first sign that local institutions may adopt the approach widely followed in North America.

From December, Victoria’s La Trobe University will require all staff, students, contractors and other visitors to be fully vaccinated.

La Trobe said it would allow staff and students to continue attending campus if they had valid medical or other “legally recognised” reasons for refusing vaccination. But this would not apply to those “who remain unvaccinated by choice”.

That could compromise their ability “to fulfil their respective obligations for work or study”, the university warned, adding that the decision was driven by occupational health and safety obligations. “The university has a duty to eliminate or…minimise the risk of exposure to Covid-19 in the workplace.”

Vice-chancellor John Dewar told the ABC that the decision had also been driven by the needs of final-year high school students, who were fed up with online study and would not enrol if universities could not offer on-campus learning. He said unvaccinated people would be “asked to leave” campus from December.

La Trobe said it would “monitor the pace of the vaccine roll-out” in the broader community, and adjust the timeframes “if necessary”. But while vaccine availability in Australia has been patchy, adults and adolescents who are willing to be immunised are expected to have had ample opportunity by December.

The university’s approach was endorsed by its public health academics. Epidemiologist Vijaya Sundararajan said Australians were “incredibly fortunate” to have access to safe and effective vaccines. “Bringing the vaccination rate as close to 100 per cent as possible amongst staff and students will enable us to get back to a vibrant on-campus life as soon as possible.”

Health policy specialist Deborah Gleeson hailed the “sensible and ethical” plan. “La Trobe’s roadmap to re-opening will support staff and students by first making it easy to get a vaccine and then…making it essential for those on campus to be fully vaccinated unless they have a valid exemption.”

While La Trobe is thought to be the first Australian university to require vaccination, nearby Deakin has strongly backed the idea. “Once the entire adult population have access to vaccination, which will be later this year…we need to consider very carefully whether we mandate vaccination to continue to be part of our university community,” vice-chancellor Iain Martin wrote.

Covid-19 immunisation is a vexed issue in the US, prompting lawsuits from students at some of the hundreds of universities where it is mandatory, and resignations by academics at universities where it is not enforced.

The Biden administration has flagged the possible withholding of funds for universities that fail to require vaccination, on the grounds that their stance discriminates against students with disabilities who are particularly vulnerable to the virus.

In Canada, several top universities reversed their initial opposition to mandatory vaccinations ahead of the autumn semester.

The North American approach differs to that of the UK, where the government has denied any plan to enforce vaccinations in universities and the University and College Union favours encouraging rather than requiring immunisation.

But Hartpury University in Herefordshire has reportedly mandated vaccination for students living on-campus or participating in sporting activities.



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