Vaccine requirement in residence to end April 8

UBC will be lifting the COVID-19 vaccine requirement in student residences on April 8, following changes to public health orders.

The current public health orders, which are set to expire on the same date, state that “the risk of transmission of virus in congregate living settings” gives a “strong precautionary basis” to require vaccines in residence.

The province is lifting this requirement after never requiring booster shots in residence, despite the BC Centre for Disease Control saying that having a booster shot increases protection against hospitalization by more than 90 per cent and by 50 to 60 per cent against infection with Omicron.

“For students who are in residence, for example, if there's no requirement to have a booster, it's not clear that the vaccine mandate is doing what people might assume it's doing,” said Dr. Eric Cytrynbaum, an associate professor in the UBC department of mathematics and a researcher with the BC COVID-19 Modelling Group.

While the protection from a booster shot wanes after three to four months, the impact of a booster mandate or lack thereof depends on students’ behaviours as restrictions lift and what other rules stay in place.

“If there's floor parties happening, large groups and things like that, then I would say residences are potentially a bigger risk than most other contexts,” said Cytrynbaum.

Cytrynbaum pointed to the drop in the case growth rate at the end of December 2021 as an indicator that people’s behaviours in the face of the Omicron wave also had a curtailing impact on case counts, in addition to restrictions.

“If they remove all measures and the vaccine passport and people still remain somewhat cautious then we may not have a large BA.2 wave,” Cytrynbaum said.

BA.2, a more transmissible subvariant of Omicron, has been increasing in proportion to BA.1. in all reported COVID-19 cases, according to the World Health Organization.

First-year student Abi Franceschetti noticed that as the academic year progressed, residents “just stopped really caring” about wearing masks. She added that she was expecting UBC’s decision to lift the requirement. Franceschetti currently lives in Totem Park.

“I’m a little bit worried about [the lift], but I guess it's just kind of a reflection of how the world is going about this whole situation,” said Franceschetti. “I’m wanting to look at it from a positive mindset, but it's a little bit worrying because I don't even know how that's gonna look for everyone, specifically for people living in residence … when we live in relatively close quarters.”

The lifting of the vaccine requirement in residents corresponds with the end of the second winter term and was determined in consultation with post-secondary organizations, according to a statement from the Ministry of Health to The Ubyssey.

“The science and our data have shown that our risks now are much lower, which allows us to lift the key protective measures with a thoughtful, careful and phased approach,” read the statement.

“With the high level of immunity across the province from vaccination, people are also protected by the overall decreased risk in the community. As the level of risk decreases in the community, the personal protection from a person wearing their own mask is enough.”

While restrictions are being lifted, Franschetti hopes that people remain mindful of their communities. She added that she thinks keeping the vaccine requirement in place would “protect everyone,” especially immunocompromised people.

“There's still this really big virus that's going around and … we can't just pretend that it's not around, for the sake of not only ourselves [but] for our neighbors and residents and for the people in our lectures, for people around us,” Franschetti said.