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International students in US without WHO-approved vaccines in a pickle

US universities
The vaccine mandate by an increasing number of US universities is putting some international students in a quandary. Source: David Ryder/Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP

An increasing number of US universities are requiring students to be vaccinated before returning to campus, but questions are arising over which vaccine will be approved by universities. The New York Times recently reported that the vaccine mandate is putting some international students without access to World Health Organization (WHO) -approved vaccines in a quandary, particularly those from India and Russia.

As of June 3, 2021, WHO said the following vaccines have met the necessary criteria for safety and efficacy: AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, Johnson and Johnson, Moderna, Pfizer/BionTech, Sinopharm and Sinovac. The Chronicle of Higher Education is maintaining a database of public and private institutions across the US that will require students and/or its employees to get vaccinated. The platform has identified 494 campuses at the time of writing.

India is currently administering three vaccines: Covishield, Covaxin and Sputnik V. CoviVac, Sputnik V and EpiVacCorona are approved by Russia. Sputnik V is developed by Russia, and has been registered in more than 65 countries. It is possible that WHO would expand its list of approved vaccines — the manufacturer of Sputnik V is at an advanced stage in its application process with WHO while Covaxin has initiated the application process

According to the NYT, one Indian student who was supposed to start her master’s at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs had received two doses of Covaxin. She was asked to be revaccinated with a different vaccine once she arrives on campus, but no one is certain whether it is safe to do so.

Many US universities accepting WHO-approved vaccines

US universities

The rising number of US universities with vaccine mandates is motivating US-bound Indian students to take the vaccine. Source: Diptendu Dutta/AFP

Speaking to The PIE News, AECC Global India country director Ankur Agarwal has recommended that Indian students who plan to study abroad in the coming month “consider the AstraZeneca (Covishield) vaccine.” Serum Institute of India’s COVID-19 vaccine, called Covishield, is a version of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine that manufacturers in India produce locally, according to Medical News Today. “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 portal.

Edwise International director Sushil Sukhwani said the rising number of US universities with vaccine mandates is motivating US-bound Indian students to take the vaccine prior to travel to avoid quarantine. Global Reach managing director Lochan Singh said the majority of Indian students have taken the AstraZeneca Covishield jab, but some have taken India’s Covaxi due to the shorter time gap between the two doses. He added that it is these students who are looking for further clarity.