Since the launch of the Covid-19 global vaccination campaign in December of 2020, vaccination in post secondary institutions has been a highly contested issue. Some observers have insisted that achieving high vaccination rates in these institutions already over 80% according to some sources is critical to contain the crisis. In turn, postsecondary institutions have strongly promoted Covid-19 vaccines, often through mandates, and the literature has identified “vaccine uptake” among postsecondary students as a problem deserving research, monitoring, and intervention. However, with the increasing recognition that vaccines do not stop viral spread, that older-age and comorbidities are leading determinants of poor outcomes, and that many vaccine side effects disproportionately affect the young, it cannot be assumed that a risk-benefit analysis favours vaccinating postsecondary students. Drawing from critical policy studies and interpretive phenomenology, our study appraises the literature on vaccine uptake in postsecondary education and explores how vaccination policies have shaped the life choices and chances of students in Canada. We find that the literature reflects the “scientific consensus”, hardly acknowledging contradictory medical evidence, ignoring coercive elements underlying “vaccine acceptance”, and all by sidestepping ethical tensions built into the very design of vaccine policies. We also find that that students largely comply with vaccination policies, whether by conviction, convenience, or coercion. The high cost of noncompliance allows little space for resistance, present nonetheless regardless of vaccination status. We discuss the implications of our findings for policy and equity and their ability to inform other areas of social life in the Covid-19 era.
Keywords: Covid-19 vaccines, Vaccine uptake, Coercion, Post secondary education, Phenomenology, Critical policy studies, Interpretive phenomenology, Canada