A University of Manitoba (UM) student who was looking forward to graduating this May says that, instead, she was deregistered from the last of her courses by the school because she does not have a COVID-19 vaccination. While the courses are set to begin online, the school says they hope to return to in-person learning and students who are not vaccinated have other options.

Mary Smith and thousands of other UM students have been taking courses online once again this year as well as dealing with a faculty strike that delayed their first semester. Courses for the second semester are set to finally begin in February and while Smith says she understands that the school hopes to return to in-person learning they should have easily been able to accommodate unvaccinated people.

She's also frustrated that the school has made the decision to boot unvaccinated students when they don't even know if they'll return to the classroom or not, yet.

"They haven't clarified their position as to say 'we're absolutely sure that it's going to switch to in-person,'" Smith says. She's in the Faculty of Arts and was hoping to continue on into the Faculty of Education after graduation this spring.

"Come February they could say, 'Well, it's not feasible to switch to in-person. We're just going to keep it online.' But then they have already deregistered us from our classes even though we could have taken them online the whole semester with no problem."

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Smith was signed up for five courses for her last semester, some of which were required credits for her graduation. On Thursday morning she says the school removed her from all the courses.

The school says in an emailed statement that "For Winter Term 2022, students who have not uploaded proof of vaccination can enrol in courses that are entirely online, including all Distance Education courses/sections."

UM confirms that students who are not vaccinated are being de-registered "from courses that had been planned to be offered in-person in Winter Term but that will now move temporarily to remote learning."

Not enough online options

While the school says that unvaccinated students are allowed to take online courses, Smith says the problem is that not all required courses are offered online. That's the position she's found herself in, just a few credit hours short of graduating but with no option to take the last of her required courses online. 

"The past couple of months I've emailed professors, I've emailed the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, and I've emailed the President and every person I can think of that could possibly be able to do something about this," Smith says. "I've asked them, is it possible to make more online courses available so that if we're deregistered from the ones that could be in-person, we could just take online ones? So I've basically emailed everyone I can think of and the common answer I get is 'I don't have the power to change anything about that, email this person instead,' and I get sent in circles."

Up until now, staff and students who are not fully vaccinated or unvaccinated have been required to undergo frequent rapid asymptomatic testing and abide by enhanced restrictions, the school says.

Smith says that she's not necessarily against the COVID vaccines, but had wanted to "wait and see what long term effects of the vaccine would be. I wanted to see in the long term if the vaccine was going to be effective. I just wanted the time to be able to make my own decision." She says that her family is also against the vaccine and she "didn't want to be a source of tension" for her family.

Smith's sister, Danielle, was also de-registered from her courses later in the week. "She had the President's Scholarship, Nellie McClung Scholarship, a $3,000 entrance scholarship, the Governor General's Award and more," their mom, Christa, says.

The family says the women have been in contact with over 100 other students in a similar situation.

Vaccination requirements common for Manitoban universities

UM isn't the only post-secondary institution in the province to have vaccination requirements for students. Over the Christmas break, Canadian Mennonite University announced it would require students to have a third dose, or booster shot, of COVID vaccines. It's also requiring students to undergo rapid testing twice a week.

CMU pushed back its return to in-person learning after the Christmas break until next week. "It’s our hope that by deferring in-person classes to January 24 students will have enough time to receive or at least book their third shot in time to attend in-person," Kevin Kilbrei, Director of Communications and Marketing at CMU says in an email at the time of the announcement. "Consideration will be extended to those who require more time—especially those who are from out-of-province (where third doses are more difficult to come by than in Manitoba) or as international students."

Before the start of the 2021/22 school year Providence University College also made a requirement for students, staff, and faculty to be fully vaccinated.

Smith says that she will be extremely frustrated if the university ends up finishing the Winter Term in remote learning. "I could be going on applying somewhere else or getting a job with my degree, but they denied me that because of an assumption that something might happen," she says.

Concerns over vaccines not uncommon

Smith is not alone in wanting to see how effective the vaccines work, or if there are other issues caused by them.

While COVID-19 continues to spread to all Manitobans despite vaccination status, the most recent data shows that outcomes are much less severe for people who are fully vaccinated.

Currently, in Manitoba, people who are not fully vaccinated are three times more likely to be hospitalized due to COVID, according to the data. Unvaccinated people are 11 times more likely to end up in the ICU than those who are fully vaccinated. The Manitoba death rate in those who are unvaccinated is currently 10 times higher than those who are fully vaccinated.

A graphic shows the stats listed below(Manitoba Government)

Health Canada says that up to Jan. 14, 2022, there have been 72.8 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines administered in the country. There have been 34,426 adverse reactions (0.047 per cent of all doses administered) and 7,378 of those were considered serious adverse reactions (0.010 per cent of all doses administered).

Health Canada says "All reports of adverse events following immunization received by Health Canada and PHAC are included in (the) report, regardless of whether they have been linked to the vaccines. This is because we need to look at all the data available to us so we can detect any early signals of an issue."

Graphic showing data from Health Canada mentioned above(Health Canada)