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Vaccine rules are the big, new hurdle for Indian students heading to foreign universities

Many universities, especially those in the US, require students to be vaccinated. To make matters worse, Covaxin is yet to be recognised by WHO.

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New Delhi: Apart from visa and travel restrictions this year, students with confirmed admissions to foreign universities have one more issue to deal with — vaccination. 

As universities abroad are opening up for international students and allowing in-person classes from fall 2021, the session that starts in September, many universities, especially those in the United States, require students to be vaccinated before they enter campus. 

But with the vaccine shortage in many Indian states and appointments not readily available, getting vaccinated in time is a major worry for Indian students. 

And if this wasn’t enough, Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin is yet to get the approval from the World Health Organization (WHO) and hence will not be accepted in foreign universities. 

That leaves only Covishield as the only vaccine available in India that has been recognised by WHO. 

Now with the recently increased interval between two doses of Covishield, there is a race for those who have taken their first shot to get vaccinated in time. 

Siddhant Shukla, a 31-year-old banker who is going to Canada for his MBA, said, “I received my first dose of Covishield around 10 days ago and if the rules remain the way they are in India right now, my second dose will only be in the third week of August. 

“I will have to get my dose somehow before leaving for Canada at the end of the month…it will be a kind of race, but I want to get vaccinated before I leave.” 

“But I’m thankful that I and others in this batch are at least getting to go because there are vaccines; the last batch had to either defer their course or take classes online from India,” he added. 

Pranab Gupta, a Delhi resident also going to Canada for an engineering course, has a similar worry. 

“I was vaccinated in the first week of May. My second dose will be in the first week of August and my classes begin on 30 August,” he said. “Currently, Canada has a 14-day quarantine policy for students, so I will ideally have to reach there by 15 August. I will have to be very lucky to get a slot for vaccination in time. I am just hoping for the best and wishing that the gap between two Covidshield doses is reduced again.” 

Also read: Economist Arvind Subramanian to join Brown University months after quitting Ashoka University

The Covaxin fix

While most students are consciously choosing to get vaccinated with Covidshield, according to reports, those who got Covaxin are in a fix now, as US universities have asked them to get revaccinated. 

Even as vaccination has been made a priority for students in Telangana, Kerala and Mumbai, experts in the field of international education feel that more states like Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and metros like Delhi and Bengaluru also need to go the same way as most students going abroad are from these regions. 

There is, however, some consolation. 

Universities in the US, such as Columbia University and New York University, which have made vaccination mandatory for campus attendance, have told international students that they can get vaccinated after coming to New York and before joining school. Other universities like Rutgers have free vaccination clinics on all campuses. 

Keertana Sharma, who is going for her masters to Chicago University, said, “I recovered from Covid a month ago, and I am not mandated to take the vaccine before three months. So I will wait it out and get vaccinated once I land up at the university.” 

Universities in Canada also have different takes on vaccination. While many of them have communicated to students that they plan to start with a hybrid model, which involves conducting some classes in-person and some online, they have not said much about the requirement of vaccines. 

While Western University and Trent University have communicated that students joining their campus need to be vaccinated with at least the first dose of vaccine, University of Toronto has not specified its vaccination policy so far. 

Similarly, at Canada’s Rotman School of Management, Indian students do not need to be vaccinated before they land. 

Indian students going to Canada, however, want to get vaccinated before they travel for their own safety. 

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Similar case in the UK

Universities in the UK have also not clarified their stand on vaccination so far. International education consultants however said that this should not be a worry for Indian students as the UK government has plans to immunise its international students. 

“The Department of Health and Social Care has already confirmed that the international students in the universities in the UK will receive access to the Pfizer or BioNTech vaccines free of cost. Older international students or those diagnosed with medical conditions will come under the priority group,” said Adam Copeland, Product Director & AVP, Operations, Higher Education North America, Study Group, an international education consulting platform. 

“Although our borders are open for both returning and new international students wishing to study in the UK, vaccination will present hope of a safer environment for international students to travel and bring forward their plans to study abroad,” he added.  

Akshay Chaturvedi, founder and CEO of Leverage Edu, a study abroad platform, also agreed that vaccination should not be a problem for Indian students. 

“We don’t see vaccine shortage to be an issue at all. Major economies today understand the importance of international students coming into the country and have already taken steps to welcome them back in this year through pro-student policy changes,” he said. “All students currently on-campus in the US are getting vaccinated and universities are arranging vaccinations for non-vaccinated students as well.” 

Moreover, with foreign vaccines expected to arrive in July or early August, we expect this problem to be mostly curbed and hopefully all students travelling will have at least their first jab,” Chaturvedi added. “Introduction of single jab vaccines like the Sputnik Light will also be revolutionary in huge economies like India and solve multiple supply chain issues.”

(Edited by Arun Prashanth)

Also read: DU to go ahead with exams but offers second shot to those who miss them due to Covid 


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