Students, staff are worried about immunocompromised students as in-person classes approach

UBC students and staff members are voicing concerns around what immunocompromised students can expect from in-person classes, which are set to start in less than two weeks.

In an August 5 tweet, the UBC Zoology Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee (ZEDI) released a statement expressing its concerns over the lack of clear messaging for these students and community members.

“The principle of Equity means that UBC should be considering the impacts of its planning on all members of its community, and should be especially cognizant of those who are already at a disadvantage,” the statement reads.

ZEDI highlighted the recent rise in COVID-19 cases and UBC’s then-refusal to implement stronger mask and vaccine policies. Earlier this week, the Public Health Office announced a new indoor mask mandate and that vaccines would be required for certain activities at post-secondary institutions.

The Ubyssey reached out to ZEDI for comment, but did not receive a response by publishing.

Haley Branch, a UBC graduate student who is five years into her PhD in botany, expressed similar frustrations in an interview with The Ubyssey. She said the ZEDI statement covers not only the concerns of immunocompromised students but also those in the disabled community.

“The university and the province really should be looking out for the community members most at risk and be basing the guidelines off of those individuals,” she said.

In response to Santa Ono announcing that vaccination and rapid testing clinics would be open on campus, Branch said there should also be easier access to antibody tests because it is difficult for many disabled individuals to know whether they are actually producing antibodies after getting vaccinated.

Branch also noted that long COVID — when a previously-infected individual continues to experience long-term health impacts following their initial infection — is more prevalent among young people.

She encouraged instructors to create alternative forms of participation for students who may not be able to attend class regularly.

“I think that attendance can be actually quite ableist,” she said. “We had resources online [last year] and that’s another reason why I think we should be pushing for having those resources remain online.”

Branch added that members of the UBC community should disclose their vaccination status.

“BC using vague privacy laws to justify a lack of action fails the disabled community that has always had to do that.”

In a statement emailed to The Ubyssey, Matthew Ramsey, director of university affairs at UBC Media Relations, advised immunocompromised students to explore the UBC course catalogue for online and hybrid courses, as well as contact the Academic Advising Office and the Centre for Accessibility to receive academic accommodations.

“UBC has incorporated significant additional flexibility into teaching and learning activities, using mechanisms ranging from policy adaptations through to individual instructor approaches,” he wrote.

Ramsey listed many accommodations UBC has made to support vulnerable students including how departments and instructors can choose to make some course sections online, how media capture technology has been installed in the majority of general teaching spaces to allow instructors to record lectures, and how the VP Student portfolio will be offering services both in person and online.

Ultimately, Branch believes UBC should enact stricter COVID-19 preventive measures to ensure equity among students.

“In a way, to strive to have everything back in person to create equality ... can backfire in terms of equity because ... certain people will not be safe enough to continue doing the things that they are required to do in order to complete a degree,” she said.

“In that case, the only real accommodation we [can] have is our community making sure it’s safe for us.”

On August 26, UBC announced mandatory testing for those who are not vaccinated against COVID-19.