Give us COVID-19 vaccination on priority, foreign-bound students urge Tamil Nadu govt

Chennai: Indian students bound for foreign countries to pursue higher education are left in a dilemma. This comes after the 45-day time interval between two vaccine shots in India has been increased to 12-16 weeks for Covishield.

Those who were due to fly abroad by the end of June or July had taken their jabs in May. They did so right after the Indian government opened vaccination for the 18-44 age group from May 1. But, owing to the new timelines for the second dose of Covishield, the students are afraid that they may be forced to further delay their journey, as their wait for full vaccination and certification is now 2-3 months.

Canada-bound students are the most affected by this decision and elaborated their woes to Zee News. They were originally due to fly out in late-April or early-May, ahead of the summer intake of Canadian universities. But, their plans hit a roadblock owing to Canada’s ban on direct flights from India since April 22. With India’s COVID-19 second wave having continued throughout April and May, this flight ban was further extended until June 22. In the case of American and European universities, the intake of students starts from August or September.

Given the new 12-16 week interval in place, students who took their jab in May, would have to wait at least until August to get their second jab, the vaccination certificate and then board their flights. This brings with it, its own set of challenges for some of the already anguished students who are taking online classes at home, despite having paid hefty fees.

“Even if we manage to convince the Public health center to give us the second jab in 45 days, the official certificate of having taken it would be available only after the 12-16 week period. This would delay our travel plans even further,” said Karan Thakkar, who is headed for Ontario.

According to the recommendations for persons entering Canada, unvaccinated and partially vaccinated persons will have to undergo a quarantine period. 

“Once we reach Canada without getting vaccinated or with only a single shot, we would have to shell out nearly 2000 Canadian dollars (about Rs 1.2 lakhs) for quarantine facilities. There’s also doubts over whether the unvaccinated and single-shot persons will be allowed to enter,” said Sajith Ahamed who is to pursue his post graduation.

Raama Sreenivasan, a student who tweeted out the students’ emergency request for priority vaccination to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, Council of ministers said there was no response yet. “When I checked for a solution with the Cowin helpline, they directed me to the District immunization officer. But the district officer says that they can act only under instructions from the state government” he said.

Students that spoke to Zee News are of the opinion that the Tamil Nadu government too must implement a strategy to provide priority jabs to students traveling abroad. They feel that since Kerala, Mumbai, Karnataka, Gujarat and Telangana have taken decisions in this regard and there is a precedent, the Tamil Nadu government must explore this option immediately.

Another issue is that Covaxin, the indigenous vaccine of Bharat Biotech, has not been approved by the World Health Organization (WHO), while it has been approved for international travel only in a handful of countries. The foreign travel options of those who have taken Covaxin is also doubtful. 

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