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By Svetlana Marshall
In the coming months a number of Guyanese will be travelling to the United States of America (USA) to pursue higher education at some of the most prestigious tertiary institutions in the world, however, as a prerequisite, many of them would be required to be vaccinated against the deadly Coronavirus Diseases (COVID-19). At universities such as Harvard, only US FDA-authorised or approved vaccines or vaccines that have been authorised for emergency use by the World Health Organisation (WHO) would be accepted.
Given these perquisites, persons had expressed concern that some of the Guyanese students travelling to the U.S may need to be revaccinated, considering the fact that 61,000 of the 100,000 Guyanese, who have been fully vaccinated, took the Sputnik-V vaccine – a vaccine that has not been authorised to date for emergency use by WHO.
A Guyanese student, who has taken both doses of the Sputnik-V vaccine told Village Voice Newspaper, that initially Stanford University had required that students take an FDA approved vaccine, however, the University has since amended its vaccination programme.
“Stanford initially gave us restrictions to have an FDA approved vaccine but in their recent correspondence, they said they’ll allow us to enter with any vaccine but we all need to be Covid-19 tested,” the student told this publication.
Another individual, who has been accepted into a tertiary institution in the U.S, said though she has not been vaccinated to date, she will be required to take an FDA approved vaccine upon her arrival.
When asked by Village Voice Newspaper to weigh in on the topic, the U.S Embassy Spokesperson, Violeta Talandis explained that the U.S. higher education system is decentralised with over 4,000 accredited higher education institutions in the United States. She noted that each institution sets its own admissions guidance and requirements.
Talandis said Guyanese students leaving their homeland to pursue higher education in the U.S should acquaint themselves with requirements of the universities to which they will attend, and adhere to those rules.
“We urge students to learn about and make every effort to comply with the vaccination requirements from their individual institutions, and to proactively engage with their institutions to obtain guidance and advice as to how to meet those requirements, given the unique challenges posed to international students,” the U.S Embassy Spokesperson said. She noted that institutions are advocating for flexibilities for international students with regard to these requirements.
Harvard, Stanford, Cornell, Duke, the University of California, and the University of Southern California are among universities to which Guyanese have been accepted.
In its address to the Harvard Community, the university’s administration, on May 5, 2021, informed its members of the need to be vaccinated utilising FDA or WHO approved vaccines. “To reach the high levels of vaccination needed to protect our community, Harvard will require COVID vaccination for all students who will be on campus this fall. As with existing student requirements for other vaccines, exceptions will be provided only for medical or religious reasons. Students should plan to be fully vaccinated before returning to campus for the fall semester, meaning that at least two weeks have passed since the final dose of an FDA-authorized or approved vaccine (currently Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson) or vaccines that have been authorized for emergency use by the World Health Organization (e.g., AstraZeneca/Oxford),” the university explained.
The University of Southern California, in its policy statement in April 2021, said all university faculty, staff and students who are on-campus are required to receive the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine (“COVID-19 vaccine”). “For so long as the COVID-19 vaccines are authorized for emergency use only and are not yet approved by the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA), faculty, staff and students may comply with this policy by affirmatively opting-out of COVID-19 vaccination by submitting a Personal Declination Form,” the university explained.
However, in its draft policy said that “if or when the FDA issues approval of at least one of the COVID-19 vaccines, all faculty, staff, and students eligible to receive an FDA-approved vaccine will be required to receive such vaccine in order to access university campuses and premises or participate in any in-person university programmes or activities and any previously submitted Personal Declination Forms will no longer be valid.”
In the case of the University of California and the Universities of Stanford, Duke and Cornell, they simply require students to be immunized against COVID-19. “Based on these recommendations from the CDC and from our Vaccine Governance Committee, Stanford plans to require all undergraduate, graduate and professional students coming to campus this fall to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19. All students will be asked about their vaccine status prior to their arrival on campus for the fall quarter. We will work to help arriving students obtain a vaccination if they have been unable to obtain one at their home location,” Stanford said in an advisory in April.
Meanwhile, the U.S Embassy Spokesperson reminded that there is no vaccination requirement for visitors to the United State.
Talandis also iterated the U.S Government’s commitment to contribute vaccines to the rest of the world in support of the COVAX initiative. “The United States this week announced its commitment to purchase and contribute to Gavi or in support of COVAX 500 million doses of Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, with delivery beginning in August 2021.
The half a billion new vaccine doses come on top of both the at least 80 million vaccine doses previously announced by President Biden and the $2 billion in funding which the United States has previously provided to Gavi to support COVAX,” the U.S Spokesperson told this publication.
Over in Canada, COVID-19 vaccination is voluntary. The Canadian Government has thus far approved the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine, AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD COVID-19 Vaccine and Janssen (Johnson and Johnson) COVID-19 Vaccine for use.