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What We Know About Vaccine Exemptions At Trent

Written by
Katie Pedlar
and
and
October 25, 2021
What We Know About Vaccine Exemptions At Trent
"Library stairs" by gorbould is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

As COVID-19 vaccines have become widely available, mandatory vaccination policies have emerged across post-secondary institutions. With the return of in-person classes, universities are a focal point in the debate between individual rights and the collective safety of a community. It is unequivocal that vaccination requirements are an effective legal tool to wane the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and individual preference does not warrant a legitimate exemption. However, under the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC), vaccine accommodations are required for religious and medical reasons. Medical conditions include:

  • Documented allergy or anaphylaxis reaction to Polyethylene Glycol or another component in the vaccine by an allergist/ immunologist 
  • Documented Myocarditis- a cardiac condition in which the heart muscle is inflamed 
  • Limited-time exemption is granted to individuals who are undergoing Monoclonal antibody therapy/ convalescent plasma therapy 

Anyone with pre-existing medical conditions which could be complicated by vaccination should consult with a doctor or nurse practitioner before receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. It is important to note that although these conditions are statistically uncommon, Symons campus is frequented by thousands of students, faculty and staff. Therefore, it is probable that members of the Trent community have exercised their legal right to medical exemption from vaccination. 

The OHRC states that the university has a “legal duty to accommodate people’s sincerely held creed beliefs and practices to the point of undue hardship, where these have been adversely affected by a requirement, rule or standard.” Religious exemption materializes on campus with section 9.4 Appropriate Accommodation, which must allow for “equal opportunity... and integration and full participation.” Therefore, in-class learning has to be made available to vaccinated and unvaccinated students - with credible religious exemptions - alike. The legalese of religious exemption becomes ambiguous as the term sincerely held” is not quantitative. It is possible that individuals acting in bad faith are falsely claiming sincerely held religious beliefs to skirt the COVID-19 vaccine. On occasion, the court will intervene and demand proof that the belief directly corresponds with creed. Generally, courts are hesitant to split hairs between what constitutes secularism and religious beliefs. There are very few religious factions that prohibit vaccination and COVID-19 vaccines were specifically designed to be suitable for religious groups. Religion is protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and students who have been granted religious exemptions have the right to access campus in the same capacity as the vaccinated student body. Trent community members should act in good faith and believe fellow peers when they claim to be acting in good faith.

On behalf of Nona Robinson, Associate Vice President of students at Trent, the Trent University Communications Department stated that

The effectiveness of health and safety protocols, including requirements surrounding vaccination and indoor masking on Trent’s campuses, is encouraging. As of October 15, 92 percent of Trent students and 96 percent of Trent employees that are coming to campus are fully vaccinated.

All individuals who will be on Trent’s campuses are expected to be fully vaccinated or have an approved accommodation for exemption by October 23. At this time, we are still working with students, faculty and staff requesting exemptions.

Requests for accommodations are allowed under medical or human rights grounds. Medical exemptions require the provision of documentation from licensed medical practitioners, while human rights exemptions are granted on the submission of a signed attestation form.

Individuals who have an approved accommodation for exemption must complete the Trent vaccine education module, and undergo weekly COVID-19 testing with a negative test to continue coming to campus.

In addition, unvaccinated individuals may be subject to further restrictions in the event of changes in Ontario government regulations or Public Health requirements.

There are some limitations for unvaccinated individuals in terms of accessing campus amenities as mandated by provincial and public health regulations (e.g. restrictions around indoor dining establishments or athletics facilities).

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