US vaccination rates
International students should keep in mind that US vaccination rates vary across the country. Source: Joe Raedle/Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP

Many incoming international students to the US have had their studies or travels disrupted by the pandemic, which affected the availability of flights and caused delays to visa processing. Some countries’ ability to reopen their borders to international students hinges on local vaccination rates, but will US vaccination rates play a role in students’ ability to travel to the US? Here’s what we know about US vaccination rates and how it affects international students:

Some US universities have a vaccine mandate

The Chronicle of Higher Education maintains a database of public and private institutions across the US that will require students and/or its employees to get vaccinated. Their data shows that an increasing number of universities require students to be vaccinated before they can return to campus. The platform has identified 773 campuses at the time of writing.

Chris Marsicano, an education professor and founding director of the College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College in North Carolina, told the US News and World Report that colleges generally fall into four categories: requiring vaccines; offering students incentives to get immunised voluntarily; not requiring the shots; and adopting a wait-and-see approach. The majority of schools are in the last category, said Marsicano, but this could change once COVID-19 vaccines are granted full FDA approval.

Students should take university vaccine mandates seriously. The University of Virginia, for instance, has disenrolled 49 students who registered for fall classes after failing to meet the school’s vaccine mandate, reported The Washington Post. A total of 335 students with religious and medical exemptions have been granted permanent waivers, while an additional 184 temporary waivers were granted to students who have had trouble getting vaccinated but plan to get their shots upon arriving on campus.


There’s a lot to consider before travelling abroad during a pandemic, and US vaccination rates are one of them. Source: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP

Do students need to be vaccinated to enter the US?

A White House official previously told Reuters that the Biden administration is developing a plan to require nearly all foreign visitors to the US to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This is part of their effort to reopen travel; the country is not ready to immediately lift restrictions because of the rising COVID-19 case load and highly transmissible COVID-19 Delta variant, the official said.

Which vaccines are accepted by the US?

The vaccine mandate by some US universities have put some international students without access to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or World Health Organization (WHO) -approved vaccines in a pickle. This includes vaccines produced in countries like China, 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.

Students without FDA or WHO-approved vaccines have expressed concerns about the safety of getting re-vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes the following: “Some people may have received a COVID-19 vaccine that is not currently authorised in the US. 

“Limited data are available on the safety or efficacy of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine currently authorised in the US after receipt of a non-FDA-authorised COVID-19 vaccine. However, in some circumstances people who received a COVID-19 vaccine not currently authorised in the US may be offered revaccination with an FDA-authorised vaccine.”

Which countries are barred from entering the US?

Students should check the relevant government websites, including embassies, consulates and the US Department of Homeland Security, for the latest travel updates and restrictions as they could change with little notice.

The US Department of Homeland Security, for instance, said in a tweet on August 20: “To minimise the spread of #COVID19, including the Delta variant, the United States is extending restrictions on non-essential travel at our land and ferry crossings with Canada and Mexico through September 21, while continuing to ensure the flow of essential trade and travel.”

The CDC also keeps a list of restrictions on the entry of certain travellers into the US to help slow the spread of COVID-19. 

What are the current US vaccination rates?

There’s a lot to consider before travelling abroad during a pandemic, and vaccination rates are one of them, particularly with the highly contagious Delta variant spreading. US vaccination rates vary across the country. The New York Times database notes that 73.2% of US adults have received at least one shot.

In Hawaii, 65.9% of individuals aged 18 and up are vaccinated. The figure is 77.5%, 76.1%, 76.7%, 72.8% and 70.8% in Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York, respectively.

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that unvaccinated people are about 29 times more likely to be hospitalised with COVID-19 than those who are fully vaccinated. They also found that unvaccinated people were nearly five times more likely to be infected with COVID-19 than people who got the shots.