Ministry of Health reaffirms stance against vaccine mandates after Bonnie Henry’s comments stem confusion

At a press conference on Tuesday morning, Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry seemed to suggest that the Public Health Office (PHO) was considering requiring proof of immunization in university residences — an idea that was quickly rejected by the Ministry of Health.

“We are working with post-secondary institutions to make sure they do what they need to do in each of these settings to make vaccines as accessible as possible and to put in the right measures so we can get back to a normal schooling for all young people in September,” she said.

“And so that may mean if you are living in residence, that you need to have proof of immunization.”

Henry’s comments come as debates over mandating vaccines at UBC have become more prominent. Last week, the AMS sent a letter to the university calling for vaccines and masks to be required in certain spaces on campus, which was promptly rejected by administrators. One student also created a petition to mandate vaccines in residence.

Students and faculty were left confused by Henry’s statement, with some wondering if it amounted to an official policy announcement.

“Is this residence claim a change of BC policy, as it seems to be? Today's news conference is so confusing,” Dr. Alan Richardson, philosophy professor and president of the UBC Faculty Association, tweeted.

In response to an email from The Ubyssey, the Ministry of Health reaffirmed that vaccines are not mandatory in BC, but did not initially specifically address Henry’s specific comment on vaccines in residence.

“Vaccines are our ticket to a return to normal and we encourage everyone to get the COVID-19 vaccine – but it is not mandatory,” Marielle Tounsi, senior public affairs officer wrote in the email.

The email also included a transcript of Henry’s comments, which Tounsi said “does not refer to mandating vaccines.”

“We do not have mandatory immunization programs in B.C. and it is the same for the COVID-19 vaccine,” she wrote.

In response to a follow up on vaccines in residence in specific, Tounsi pointed to the COVID-19 Return-to-Campus Guidelines, “which outlines that vaccines will be made available to all eligible students, but will not be made mandatory.”

— with files from Charlotte Alden