Education

Indian students recommended WHO-approved jabs but vaccines not mandatory

Students have been advised by study abroad advisors to opt for the WHO-recognised Oxford-AstraZeneca Covishield as it is recognised in study destinations.

In some cases, fully vaccinated students are exempt from mandatory hotel quarantine, as is the case in Ireland.

Most recently, Canada has suggested that from July essential travellers fully vaccinated with Astra Zeneca, Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer, and Moderna jabs will face shorter quarantines, but currently authorities require vaccinated travellers to quarantine on arrival.

Popular study destinations – UK, USA, Canada, Ireland, Germany, Singapore – have not instructed students to be vaccinated prior to arrival, Sushil Sukhwani, director of Edwise International noted.

“These countries have announced a varying duration of quarantine needed”

“What these countries have announced is a varying duration of quarantine needed, for example UK wants 10 days (due to India being in the red zone) and Canada 14 days,” he said.

“For our students in India who intend to study abroad in the coming months, we have suggested that they should consider the Astra-Zeneca (Covishield) vaccine for their studies,” Ankur Agarwal – AECC Global – India country director agreed.

“We have not at this stage received any advice from our institution partners regarding vaccination requirements for any of our study destinations,” Agarwal told The PIE.

Developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research, Covaxin, along with Sputnik V, have not been recognised by World Health Organization.

Current WHO travel advice suggests that national authorities should not require proof of Covid-19 vaccination for international travel.

But more than 400 US institutions have introduced mandatory vaccination to access campuses in fall 2021, which is motivating US-bound Indian students to take the vaccine prior to travel in order to avoid quarantine, Sukhwani highlighted.

The majority of Indian students have taken the AstraZeneca Covishield jab, but some have taken India’s Covaxin “primarily because the time gap between the two doses is lesser”, explained Ravi Lochan Singh, managing director of Global Reach – which recruits students from South Asia to around the world.

“It is these students who are looking for some further clarity.”

The government of India has said students who have to undertake foreign travel are eligible to have their second dose of the Covishield vaccine 28 days after their first jab, rather than waiting the normal 12-16 week period.

The move will help students aged 18-44 who were not able to access vaccines before May 1, Sukhwani indicated.

“Authorities will check if a period of 28 days has passed after the date of first dose and may reduce the time of administration of the second dose before 84 days, if the students have already begun studying at universities abroad and need to undertake foreign travel for the purpose of education,” he said.

“Students are required to provide relevant travel documentation like Admission Confirmation letters, Unconditional Offer Letters or any associated formal communication.”

Additionally, the Maharashtra government introduced new vaccination centres focusing on students from May 28.

The New York Times has reported that one master’s student from India at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs had been told she would have to be revaccinated, despite having had two doses of the Covaxin.

Since WHO has not finished reviewing Sputnik V or Covaxin, it cannot answer whether there are risks involved in being revaccinated.

Stakeholders hope that WHO will recognise Covaxin and Sputnik V, and the organisation is due to have pre-submission meeting with Bharat Biotech at some point in June. However, submissions to WHO for pre-qualification or listing under the emergency use procedure are confidential.

“I personally feel by the time students begin to travel the chances of WHO recognising Covaxin and Sputnik as a vaccine are quite likely,” said Sukhwani.

“If that is not the case, universities should be able to have a clear medical go ahead/ investigation with regards to having students revaccinated, as a cocktail of vaccines in one’s system has not been medically proven to be safe or not,” he said.

However the instance of students in India who would have taken the Covaxin will be very low, he continued.

Lochan Singh also expects WHO to expand the list of vaccines that it approves. On June 1, it recognised China’s Sinovac-CoronaVac Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use.

“This could happen in the coming month,” he said. “If this happens and the named vaccines are included, then there is just no issue. However if that doesn’t happen in time for the student travel, it is expected that such students may have to undertake the mandatory hotel quarantine for 10-14 days.”

With Indian authorities prioritising outbound students with the Covishield vaccine, Lochan Singh is “quite confident that the students who have to study overseas and be able to travel will be able to do so”.

“The students travelling this year are largely to the UK, USA, Ireland and Canada. I do believe that by the time Australia and NZ start accepting international arrivals, the concept of vaccine passports will be well in place,” he added.

“We hope to hear from all study destination countries clarifications on their vaccine requirements”

Despite not being a requirement for travel, students prefer to be vaccinated prior to travel, Sukhwani concluded.

“Those going to UK and Canada will presently get the benefit of comfort before travel but perhaps the institutions or government will consider waiving the mandatory quarantine for students on arrival thus saving about £1,750 in UK and about $2000 in Canada.”

“We hope to hear from all study destination countries clarifications on their vaccine requirements for international students to reduce the current uncertainty for students and our institutional partners globally,” Daryl Fong, chief operating officer at AECC Global, added.

“Governments need to let students know what the vaccine requirements are in their study destination countries, so students can enrol with confidence in the coming months.”

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