By Sarah Tomlinson
Ryerson’s nursing program is encouraging its students to get the COVID-19 vaccine through their clinical placements, and some nursing students say they are willing to comply.
For nursing students, placements begin in the second semester of their first year and occur every semester following, primarily in community settings and hospitals within the Greater Toronto Area, according to the program’s website.
On Jan. 14, the nursing program informed its students that they would be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine because they are among the priority vaccination groups.
However, Ryerson has not made it a requirement for students to get the vaccine in order to continue their placements.
“While COVID-19 vaccination is not mandatory, we strongly encourage you to receive the vaccine,” said Maher M. El-Masri, a professor and director at the Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing, in an email to nursing students.
According to El-Masri, students who opt out of vaccination can either complete their placement without it or delay their progression in the program by deferring their placements.
El-Masri encouraged students to get the vaccine because, as health care workers, their profession “carries a measured risk that is not limited to COVID-19.” Through vaccination and following proper precautions, such risks can be minimized, he said.
Claire Rosemary, a third-year nursing student, said she plans on getting vaccinated through her placement at The Hospital for Sick Children.
“I think you have a responsibility if you’re working in health care to get the vaccine to an extent unless there are reasons you can’t get it. Anyone who can get it should get it.”
Rosemary said she’s more worried about spreading COVID-19 than getting it, noting that she lives with her family and commutes to work.
“I am excited to get [the vaccine]. It’ll be a weight off my shoulders,” she said. “I come home to other people so it just feels kind of selfish to not get the vaccine.”
Simran Bhullar, a fourth-year nursing student, said she “jumped at the chance without hesitation” to get the vaccine.
“At the end of the day, all I could ever want is for this virus to be eradicated,” she said. “Eradication may not be possible due to the widespread nature of the virus, but a vaccine is a step towards the right direction.”
She added that getting the vaccine is “paying homage” to all the healthcare providers who were on the frontline at the beginning and peak of the pandemic.
“I, along with others on the front lines who will be receiving the vaccine, should exemplify that there is nothing to be scared of”
According to the Ministry of Health, approved vaccines being used in Canada require two doses that must be administered within four to six weeks of each other. This timeline aligns with students’ availability in their placements, El-Masri said in her email.
Jamie Patel, a fourth-year nursing student, recently got her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. She said it’s really important for as many people to get vaccinated as possible, especially with the new variants spreading around.
One aspect of her part-time job as a population health associate is providing COVID-19 vaccine information sessions for people. Therefore, Patel said she understands their “advanced mechanisms” and believes the vaccines are safe.
Patel also said the process of getting her first dose went smoothly and she’s already looking forward to getting her second one.
In order to secure their placements, nursing students must submit a Practice Requirement Record (PRR) that shows they meet the specific health and safety needs of placement partners, including specific medical requirements. These mandatory medical requirements include evidence of immunity (blood work) to measles, mumps, rubella, varicella and hepatitis B; a Baseline 2-Step Tuberculin Skin Test; and the flu vaccination.
Patel said given other vaccines and tests are mandatory, she was surprised Ryerson didn’t enforce the COVID-19 vaccine. “It’s in line with our program’s policies. With the flu shot, it’s not encouraged, it’s mandatory. This is not very different from that.”
Beatrice Javier, a third-year nursing student, has already gotten both doses of the vaccine. She said she felt she had a “moral obligation” to do so and feels more protected against the virus.
As part of her work, she administers the vaccine herself through vaccination clinics at her placement. “It’s very eye-opening to be part of something historical,” she said.
Destiny Javier, a third-year nursing student, said she feels privileged to get the vaccine as part of the priority group.
“It places me and all other nursing students on the spotlight to role-model this action towards others,” she said.
According to data released in December 2020 by Statistics Canada, a quarter of Canadians don’t plan on getting vaccinated due to worry surrounding the time required to make, test and approve them, as well as the genetic technology used to create the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
“Many people already distrust the vaccine because of how new it is. I, along with others on the front lines who will be receiving the vaccine, should exemplify that there is nothing to be scared of.”
The school encouraged students to make informed decisions through the 19 To Zero website to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine and efforts to control the spread of the virus.
“Anytime you have an institution that is encouraging or promoting a vaccine, that’s when people get defensive”
19 To Zero is a dedicated coalition of academics and public health experts working to understand and shift public perceptions around COVID-19 behaviours and vaccination.
Rosemary said she agrees with Ryerson’s approach to providing educational resources without enforcing the vaccine on its students.
“Anytime you have an institution that is encouraging or promoting a vaccine, that’s when people get defensive. Just give people facts and let them decide for themselves,” she said. “People are just skeptical and their skepticism is not founded in science, it’s founded in this conspiracy.”
Vaccine opponents have made several unsubstantiated claims, including allegations that vaccine trials were dangerously rushed in production, arguing that most vaccines take years to be developed, as previously reported by Global News.
“It’s difficult to read those things that aren’t founded in science as someone who knows the truth and knows about how vaccines work, and how necessary it is for people to get vaccinated,” Rosemary said.
In order to achieve herd immunity, 70 per cent of the population must get vaccinated, according to the 19 To Zero website. The Eye previously reported that Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi is willing to offer the Mattamy Athletic Centre as a mass vaccination site if necessary.
For Destiny Javier, choosing to get vaccinated is an act that will benefit the entire population.
“I would like to promote and be a role-model for herd immunity, as this is one of the best ways to help decrease the mass effects of COVID-19 on everyone.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article used the incorrect pronouns for a source. The Eyeopener regrets this error.