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Monday, July 26, 2021

Cloud over vaccine approval: Students jabbed with Covaxin worry about overseas study plans

Additional expense, compulsory quarantine and re-vaccination biggest concerns

Pune |
Updated: June 26, 2021 8:55:24 am
Special vaccination drive organised for students going abroad for education at Kamalanehru Hospital, Pune. (Express Photo by Ashish Kale, File)

Written by Samriddhi Sakunia

Nikhil Patil (21), an engineer from Gujarat’s Vadodara, felt relieved when in May he managed to book a vaccination slot after trying for over a dozen times. A few weeks earlier, Patil had secured an admission in Canada’s University of Windsor for a post-graduate course in industrial engineering and wanted to ensure that he was fully vaccinated when he applies for visa.

However, Patil, like thousands of other Indian students going abroad for studies and vaccinated with Covaxin, is facing a dilemma. Patil was administered the first jab of Covaxin, the inactivated anti-Covid-19 vaccine developed by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech, which is still waiting for an approval from the World Health Organisation (WHO). Last week, the latest bid by Bharat Biotech’s US partner Acugen to obtain an emergency use authorisation was rejected by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The lack of approval from the WHO means that most countries will treat those administered with Covaxin as “non-vaccinated”. They will have to follow the quarantine rules of the respective country they are travelling to, and may require to receive another vaccine, which is approved in that country.

“Even if I land in Canada after taking Covaxin, I will be considered as a non-vaccinated person there. Also, I will have to pay for my 14-day quarantine and get re-vaccinated,” Patil said.

Akarsh Thodupunuri, a graduate from Hyderabad, too rushed to take the vaccine to make sure that he is fully vaccinated before he travels to his college in Canada in August.

“I took Covaxin as only it was available at that time. Little did I know that this decision would jeopardise my career. I’m scheduled to travel to Canada in August, and I have paid about Rs 50 lakh for my studies there in advance,” said Thodupunuri.

Thodupunuri said Canada has one of the most expensive quarantine facilities. “Also, I will have to undertake several Covid tests that cost almost 60 CAD. I could have avoided all these hassles and expenses had I taken the WHO-approved vaccine,” he added.

Bhoomika Motwani, another student from Hyderabad, is worried about the extra charges her family will have to bear to set up a quarantine facility for her in Canada.

“By taking Covaxin though we can enter Canada, but we will be considered non-vaccinated and have to bear the cost of the quarantine, which for me would be about Rs 1.2 lakh. Besides, we will have to re-vaccinate ourselves,” she said.

Piyush Patil, a graduate student of Marathwada Mitramandal, Pune, had to cancel his plan for MA studies due to non-acceptance of Covaxin-administered students in his university.

“I was all set to go to London for my MA. I took a jab of Covaxin, but the UK does not recognise it. So now I will have to postpone it to next year,” Patil said.

While some students can afford to bear the expenses of quarantine facilities abroad, some had to postpone their plans to next year. The WHO and the Centre are yet to offer a positive reply on the Covaxin issue.

Seafarers, who sail to different countries, are facing similar problems as well. Abhijit Sangle, working president of the All India Seafarers’ Union, who stays in Pune, complained of how several seafarers have been adversely affected by confusion over vaccination.

“As many as 2,000 seafarers across the country have faced troubles owing to the Covaxin issue. Some even lost their jobs as they couldn’t join their duties. I get calls every day from personnel based out of Odisha, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and north India regarding their issues. We have written to the WHO and Cabinet Minister Aaditya Thackeray, but haven’t got a response yet,” Sangle said.

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