Updated: June 15, 2021 8:05:04 am
Last week, the Centre decided to reduce the gap between two Covishield shots for students travelling abroad, lending momentum to special inoculation drives in some states and municipalities that had begun early this month. Amidst a shortage of shots, especially for the 18 to 44-year-old group, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and the municipalities of Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad and Surat reserved vaccination centres for students headed for foreign campuses. Punjab, Odisha and Delhi have followed suit and the UP government has similar plans on its anvil. Such arrangements could remove some of the pandemic-inflicted uncertainties that have beset the country’s young. But setting aside a chunk of subsidised shots for a well-heeled section of students introduces another element of bias in an inoculation project already shadowed by inequalities born of the digital divide and rural-urban disparities.
Last year, after the lockdown was announced, students in most universities were forced to vacate hostels and campuses and return home. Though teaching resumed in several institutions in late 2020, semesters were shortened, students lost access to vital resources such as libraries and laboratories and fulfilling the demands of the curricula became a challenge for those lacking the wherewithal required for the shift to the online mode. Many universities, too, were unprepared for this emergency measure. Campus life resumed early this year in some parts of the country, only to be cut short by the second wave. The emotional toll taken by the loss of the home away from home on the country’s young population is now well-documented. With a substantial chunk of their students vaccinated, universities in several parts of the world are now taking steps to resume in-person classes. In India, too, ground must be laid for a liberal vaccine policy that allows all students to return to the familiarity of the analogue world. Till such a policy is framed, however, those who have received offers from foreign universities must be encouraged to register themselves at private facilities that could abide by the government’s new vaccination timelines.
Several US universities have made vaccination compulsory for a return to classrooms. Many of them have also made arrangements to vaccinate international students. Yet, the anxiety of Indian students to get the shots before leaving the country’s shores is understandable. Addressing this predicament, however, shouldn’t be at the cost of vaccine equity.
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