AUT To Be the Only Uni Without On-campus Vaccine Mandates
By Justin Hu (he/him)
AUT will be the only university in the country that will not mandate the use of Covid-19 vaccine passes for on-campus study this year.
Seven out of eight universities in New Zealand have mandated the use of vaccine passes to participate in campus activities at all levels of the government’s traffic light system.
However, AUT students are not required to have vaccine passes at the Orange and Green levels, though the university is heavily emphasising the need for all students with passes to register online through the AUT app while at Red.
At the Red level, the government mandates the use of vaccine passes for all on-campus study.
University spokesperson Alison Sykora told Debate that AUT intended to adhere to the legal requirements and public health guidance around vaccination passes on campus.
“We are focused on following the government-mandated requirements and guidance regarding the Covid-19 Protection Framework. Our priority remains keeping our staff and students safe while supporting work and learning as fully as possible.”
She said the university was advised by health officials that it was safe for vaccinated and unvaccinated students to study in person at lower levels.
“We are following specific advice from government, informed by health experts, that states it is appropriate to be on campus at the Orange and Green traffic light levels,” Sykora said in a statement.
“AUT has consulted with AUTSA who have expressed support. It is worth noting that secondary schools continue to operate without vaccination pass checks or requirements at all levels of the Covid-19 Protection Framework.”
Vaccine passes are only available to people who are double vaccinated or who have been granted a medical exemption by the Ministry of Health.
AUT consulted on its vaccination policy in a poll sent out to all students and staff last October. The results of the student survey have not been released by the university.
Meanwhile, staff were told in an email that 1,500 responses had been received on its staff survey — there are over 4,000 staff hired at the university.
According to the survey results, 81 per cent said they would be more comfortable on campus if students were fully vaccinated, with 82 per cent also saying they would be more comfortable if their colleagues were.
Last year, Universities New Zealand chief executive Chris Whelan said most universities had to balance numerous trade-offs on mandates.
“We’re having to balance a whole set of risks and the lesser of a number of evils. We want to make sure our campuses are as safe as possible for everyone,” he said on Newstalk ZB.
Other universities that brought in vaccination mandates released survey results from their student consultation.
At Victoria University in Wellington, 79 per cent of surveyed students said they supported the university’s decision to mandate vaccinations in classroom settings. 28 per cent said they lived with a household member in a vulnerable population.
Consultation results from the University of Canterbury suggested some students felt vaccination mandates would reduce the risks of them catching the virus and then spreading it onward to immunocompromised family or friends.
73 per cent of Canterbury students supported the policy. Meanwhile, those who opposed said it would discriminate against the unvaccinated and disproportionately restrict minority populations from access to education — among other reasons.
Emerging science suggests Omicron evades vaccine immunity better than past variants which, alongside overall waning immunity, means people can still catch the new variant while double jabbed. But, researchers now believe a booster shot will restore reasonably high levels of immunity from catching the virus, shortly after immunisation.
Research also shows that two doses of the Pfizer vaccine remains effective for reducing chances of hospitalisation and death, with a booster shot reducing a person’s chances significantly more.
At AUT, the only courses that require vaccination passes at all levels are clinical and teaching courses that involve placements.
“Unvaccinated students taking courses leading to clinical or teacher registration, will not be able to complete the mandatory clinical and practicum elements of their courses,” the university said online.
“This is a requirement of the placement locations and beyond AUT’s control.”
AUT’s website says support for those who are unvaccinated or those concerned about the possibility of encountering unvaccinated people on campus is being made available via the student hub.
At the Red level, room capacity is also limited based on one-metre physical distancing.