Vaccine requirement more complicated for international students



FILE – In this Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021 file photo, pharmacy technician Sochi Evans fills a syringe with a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Texas Southern University in Houston. Coronavirus cases are continuing to decline in the U.S. after a winter surge. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University say the seven-day average of new coronavirus cases in the country dropped below 100,000 on Friday, Feb. 12 for the first time since November 4. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP, File)

After overcoming complicated visa statuses, dramatic time differences and WiFi issues, international students may be facing one more hurdle — vaccination status. 

On April 21, President A. Gabriel Esteban announced via email that DePaul will require all undergraduate, graduate and professional students coming back in the fall to be vaccinated. While the university has yet to release more detailed information, it is likely that in order to attend in-person classes, live on campus or participate in student organizations, students will have to be vaccinated. 

For students living in the U.S., the vaccination process is relatively easy. Anyone aged 16 and over is eligible to get vaccinated at any city-run site. According to the City of Chicago, “the COVID-19 vaccine is free to everyone, regardless of insurance or immigration status.” DePaul also hosted a vaccine clinic to bring vaccine availability right on campus.

However, not all DePaul students have the same access to vaccines; for international students, getting the vaccine is potentially much more complicated.

International students make up close to 10 percent of DePaul’s enrollment, comprising 4.7 percent of undergraduates and 17.6 percent of graduate students. In total, 2,316 students from 126 countries were enrolled in the 2019-2020 school year, according to the Office of Global Engagement at DePaul. 

Across those 126 countries, vaccine availability varies greatly. Unlike students in Chicago or the U.S., international students face vastly different vaccine availability.

In Pakistan, free vaccines are currently only available for adults over the age of 40. If college students want to get vaccinated, they have to pay for a private one, said DePaul sophomore Sharjeel Sajjad, who is originally from Karachi, Pakistan and is a Global Ambassador for DePaul.

Right now, none of the three vaccines approved for use in the U.S. are available in Pakistan, adding a dose of uncertainty for Pakistani students at DePaul planning to return in the fall. Although it’s a little uncertain, he felt confident that things would work out by the fall. 

Sajjad said he was still very supportive of the requirement, and that “it is necessary to get everyone vaccinated.” He received the vaccine in the U.S. upon his recent return.

“As international students, we already have 8-10 vaccine requirements,” Sajjad said. “The Covid vaccine just adds to them.”

Juliana Zanubi, a DePaul sophomore from Colombia, said she doesn’t think she’ll be able to get vaccinated in Colombia, where she’s spent this academic year.

“I wish DePaul had vaccine clinics over the summer, because I’m sure not going to get it here,” she said.

Zanubi said her mother was scheduled to receive the second dose of the vaccine last Monday, but due to the protests and political upheaval in Colombia, all the roads were blocked and she couldn’t leave the house. 

In Colombia, just 3.5 percent of the population has received the full vaccine sequence, according to the New York Times vaccine tracker.

China, India, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan and South Korea — the top five countries of citizenship for DePaul’s international student population — all have significantly lower vaccination rates than the U.S.

Even if students can get a vaccine, it’s still not confirmed if DePaul will count them towards the requirement to return this fall. The school has not yet decided on how to proceed with vaccines that have been approved abroad, but not in the U.S. 

“​DePaul is assessing how to handle COVID-19 vaccines not yet approved for use in the United States but taken by some of our students abroad,” the university said on an FAQ page for international students. “We will communicate with [students] as soon as possible after we receive further guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Chicago Department of Public Health.” 

The Oxford-AstraZeneca, Gamaleya (Sputnik V), Sinopharm-Beijing, Sinovac, CanSino, Sinopharm-Wuhan and Bharat Biotech (Covaxin) vaccines are just some that are being offered in DePaul students’ home countries but have not been approved for use in the U.S. 

Although DePaul is holding off, other schools have made decisions. Columbia College will not require international students already vaccinated in another country with a vaccine not approved in the U.S. to be re-vaccinated. Boston University, a school with a large international student population, recently announced that any vaccine approved worldwide will count.