The government has opened up COVID-19 vaccination for everyone above the age of 18 years in India. This is applicable from May 1 and state governments will be able to procure vaccines from the open market at a pre-determined price.
But even in Phase 3 of vaccination, young students have been left out. At a time when India is facing its second wave of COVID-19, students planning to go abroad are in for some disappointment.
Nikhil Crasto, a 17-year-old student in Mumbai, was eyeing a computer science degree in the US and was hopeful of getting the vaccine shot before going abroad. He now has to wait longer.
“Considering that universities across the US are now talking about only allowing fully vaccinated students, it will be unfair that we lose out just because it isn’t permitted in India,” he said.
The US has allowed everyone over the age of 16 years to get a jab. Additionally, universities are also looking to make full vaccination mandatory for students who wish to enter the campus.
This would mean that only those vaccinated will be allowed to attend physical classes in campuses while the rest can join online classes. Every year, 100,000-200,000 Indian students go abroad to study. Popular destinations are the US, the UK, France, Italy, Germany and Australia. Indian students spend almost Rs 40,000 crore a year studying abroad.
Apart from the US, Italy and France are among regions where institutes are planning to make vaccination mandatory. Formal policies will be announced by the first week of May.
When will students get vaccinated?
In Phase 3, everyone above the age of 18 years will be eligible to get vaccinated. Here, it will be the responsibility of the state governments to procure the vaccines from manufacturers at a pre-determined price.
Even abroad, those below 16 years are not authorised to take the COVID-19 vaccines because of lack of adequate data on the possible side-effects. Globally, Pfizer-BioNTech has made a submission to allow those aged 12 years and above to be given their COVID-19 vaccine.
What about unvaccinated students?
To minimise COVID-19 spread, universities in the US are looking to make 'campus vaccine passports' mandatory. This would mean that students travelling in from countries (especially those with high case load) would be allowed into the campus and attend physical lectures only if they get both the shots of the vaccine.
Indian students are already worried about a delay in board exam results impacting their chances of getting admission into a foreign university. Vaccination is an added concern.
“I am planning to do a public policy course in Georgia, Atlanta. But if they only admit students based on vaccine certificates, many Indian candidates like me will lose out," said Mihika Bajaj, a 17-year-old student from Pune.
For students enrolled in existing courses too, there is a worry. Siddharth Srinivasan is a 19-year-old second-year electronics student at a New York-based university. He came back in June 2020 and has been pursuing classes online.
“My friends in the US are already vaccinated, and, in India, there is a long wait list. There are plans to open physical classes by June and if I don’t get my shots by then, I may not be allowed back to the campus. I have already received unofficial messages from my department head asking me to get the shots immediately,” he added.
If he doesn't get the vaccine here, Srinivasan has another option. He could travel to the US immediately and get the vaccine by staying in a hotel for a few weeks. But for several others, that is not an option.
Sarita Chugh, who was eyeing a social sciences degree in New York, has now abandoned her plan. Eighteen-year-old Chugh is doubtful about getting vaccinated in time for the course to begin.
“There is an option to visit the US on a tourist visa and get the vaccine. I know of two friends who did that. But this is not an option for me because I cannot afford the additional travel expenses,” she said.
Chugh's mother who was scheduled for her second dose of vaccination in Puri, Odisha, was told that the hospital has run out of vaccines.