Saturday 13 November 2021

Canterbury, vaccination, and ICU capacity

I'm supposed to be visiting at Canterbury Uni for a bit this summer. Back to the old stomping grounds, bit of teaching, catching up with people. 

I've been very disappointed that, thus far, Canterbury hasn't announced any vaccine mandate for students. Other New Zealand universities have.

On a straight business case, it seems odd not to have a vaccine mandate. The whole traffic light system is geared around vaccination requirements. If the traffic lights start changing colours, a university just can't function normally any more without vaccination requirements

The red light is likely where Auckland will start. This is the setting in place for when there is a fairly large outbreak in the community underway, and it risks overwhelming the healthcare system.

This is not a lockdown however. Visiting family members etc would not be banned, although larger gatherings would be curtailed.

Under this setting, schools and early childhood centres would remain open, but with some public health measures in place – think masks and cohorting. Tertiary education would also be allowed, but with vaccine requirements for in-person learning.

Announcing a mandate early makes sense.

Lectures only start in February. But students choose campuses well before that. Unless you're trying to corner the market in antivax students, you're making a mistake if you don't have a well publicized vaccine mandate when students are still deciding where to go. 

Even if the students aren't worried about Covid at all, they'd have to worry about their school being forced to go back to online learning when the traffic light turns red. 

Or that there'll be just a horrible mess that comes in where the university finally figures out at the last minute just what the traffic light system requires, imposes the mandate, but feels it has to run mixed setups to accommodate the students who wind up having to learn from home because nobody warned them early enough about the inevitable consequences of the traffic light system, because the university was way too late in setting a vax mandate.

The universities are all pretty good. There's minor differences at the margin but students generally have a choice of which one to pick. Why would you pick one that's likely to turn into a mess in a Covid outbreak, if others already have the mandate sorted? 

I remember being at Canterbury when they decided to turn the whole campus SmokeFree. It seemed completely ludicrous. A smoker out in one of the many, many wide open spaces on campus just isn't hurting anybody. There's zero harm. Ban smoking in classrooms, sure. That's required anyway. But banning it out in the middle of a parking lot? Out on Ilam Field? It was just nuts, right?

But they'd convinced themselves it was the right thing to do, set an example, and that it would attract far more non-smoking students than it would repel smoking students. 

It probably did nothing on the student-attraction margin either way - smoking rates are too low for it to matter. 

How can a place conclude that some guy having a cigarette out in the middle of a quad by himself has to be banned on example-setting kinds of grounds, or paternalistic grounds, but that it would be wrong to require vaccination for being in classrooms in a pandemic? 

Like at least be consistent here. I could understand a *very* hard-core interpretation of one kind of libertarianism that would allow both smoking and being unvaccinated in class in a pandemic. But this mix is just incoherent unless you believe that an unvaccinated person, in a pandemic, is less risky than a smoker out in an open space. And if you believe that you can't possibly be qualified to work at a university. 

It's all nuts. 

I also remember when the public health people at Canterbury completely freaked out that I'd done some alcohol-industry funded work, completely run through the Research Office, while on faculty. They thought it was going to wreck their chances of getting further public health grants. Somehow my doing that from my office on the other side of campus had contagion risk to their side of campus. But I don't see them freaking out about Canterbury not having a vaccine mandate in a pandemic. Maybe it's because I'm too far away. 

Anyway, Stuff printed their estimates of the shortfall in ICU beds by DHB, even if we hit 90% vaccination rates, in any larger outbreak. Canterbury is desperately short of ICU beds relative to what will be needed. 

That means they are far more likely to wind up in a red-light scenario because that whole thing is keyed to health system capacity. Which makes it even stupider that Canterbury hasn't yet announced a vaccine mandate for students. 

There is one sensible way of running a campus without a vax mandate - but I don't think it meshes with the traffic light requirements. The University of Illinois requires that unvaccinated students be tested every other day, using their excellent and accurate saliva-based PCR testing system. That can work. It would catch cases before they turned into campus outbreaks. But I don't think the traffic light system is currently flexible enough to allow that alternative. And, in any case, it would also require Canterbury having made arrangements for that kind of testing, and they haven't. 

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