Removal of vaccine mandate

The University’s vaccine mandate was discontinued on Tuesday 26 April.

Documents relating to the decision

Read the decision paper prepared for the Vice-Chancellor, the results of a survey of staff and students, an updated health and safety risk assessment, and the anonymised survey comments.

Watch a video message from Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Jennifer Windsor about this decision.

Email sent to all students on Friday 8 April

This email has been sent to all students on behalf of Kaiwhakakapi Tumu Whakarae—Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Jennifer Windsor

Kia ora koutou,

Earlier this week, a Government decision to remove a vaccine mandate requirement in many sectors, including tertiary education facilities (and excluding health and disability workers), took effect. I am writing now with a decision on the University’s vaccine mandate (PDF).

After balancing risks and responsibilities, I have decided that the University’s vaccine mandate will be discontinued from Tuesday 26 April, when learning and teaching starts again after the mid-trimester break. This means that, from 26 April, students, staff, contractors and visitors will no longer need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to enter our campuses or take part in face-to-face University activities. The separate vaccination mandate in place in our halls of residence will remain in place for the time being. There are a small number of groups within our community where vaccination will continue to be mandatory under Government guidelines.

You can also view a video message from me about the decision above.

Thank you to everyone who has provided their expertise on guiding factors for the decision and thanks to all students and staff who completed the survey last week. As well as the survey feedback, a wide range of other factors have also been taken into account in reaching a decision, including current public health guidance, our obligations under the University’s Te Tiriti Statute, the Pastoral Care Code, obligations to our students, equity considerations, the Human Rights Act, the Health and Safety at Work Act, and our obligations as an employer.

A primary reason for my decision is the findings of the recently reviewed health and safety risk assessment (PDF). The risk assessment indicates that the vaccine mandate no longer effectively mitigates risks from the Omicron variant. Unvaccinated individuals attending the University at this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic in Wellington no longer introduce a higher risk than we experience in the broader community. The high vaccination rates amongst our staff and students and those in the Wellington region was part of the consideration, as well as vaccination being less effective against the transmission of Omicron compared to Delta, the variant that was prevalent when the University vaccine mandate was introduced.

The survey has also been a significant component of my decision. The survey results (PDF) show the University community has a range of views on what to do about our mandate (noting that a vaccine mandate remains for our University halls of residence). Of the total of 3,950 respondents, 57% supported discontinuing the mandate at the red or orange setting and 90% supported discontinuing before or at the green setting. I am comfortable that a broad range of views were represented in the survey, even given the length of time it was open. Staff and students gave similar feedback to the questions.

Feedback from the survey on how the mandate impacted the sense of wellbeing in the University community was another key factor I considered. The most common concern expressed was about individuals’ own sense of wellbeing or about care for others’ wellbeing, with student groups drawing attention to the needs of Māori and Pasifika immunocompromised tauira and any implications of long COVID. I agree with VUWSA and Ngāi Tauira that we simultaneously need to respect the timing of access for students who are currently unable to come to campus because of the vaccine mandate and also that discontinuing the mandate prior to 26 April does not give sufficient time to ensure a smooth transition. I recognise that we are not a one-size-fits-all community and have multiple different perspectives and groups within our University.

The safety and wellbeing of those who are part of, or who have a family or whānau member who is part of, an immunocompromised or other vulnerable group has been an important consideration. Information and support for students at higher risk of the effects of COVID-19 is available here. We will continue to ensure we have support in place for those individuals and groups who feel most vulnerable before 26 April. We are working on additional ways to mitigate risks to members of our community who feel especially vulnerable, as well as continuing to offer dual delivery learning and teaching and keeping other public health measures in place. We will provide further information about this soon. Booster shots are highly recommended to improve protection against Omicron. Students can get their COVID-19 vaccinations at our Mauri Ora (Student Health and Counselling) Kelburn campus clinic.

Much of the detailed information on which I based this decision will be shared on our website early next week.

This has been a difficult decision and I recognise that while it will be appreciated by some, it will not be welcomed by everyone. One of the key takeaways from the survey was that it is important to allow some time to transition effectively and with care to this new phase. This is why we are not immediately discontinuing the mandate, and will not be inviting members of the public onto our campuses until we are at the orange setting.

While on campus, we all have an important role to play in reducing transmission of COVID-19 by following public health measures. Everyone following these measures, such as staying home when sick, wearing a face mask, and maintaining physical distance, is vital in protecting your own health and that of others, including members of our community who are at greater risk of the effects of COVID-19 so that they can fully participate in their work or study.

Support is available to you throughout the University and I encourage you to prioritise your own wellbeing at this time and look out for each other. Please send questions, feedback, and concerns to students@vuw.ac.nz. I will follow this feedback.

I know how challenging a start to the year we have had, and that you will be looking forward to a very well-deserved mid-trimester break. Take good care of yourselves.

Ngā mihi nui, nā

Jennifer