Vaccine woes plague students keen to return to Australia

Covishield or Covaxin? Must be vaccinated upon arrival? Many questions but few answers available.

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Earlier this month, news of the NSW government’s proposed pilot plan to bring back international students received a lukewarm response from Indian students stranded overseas. After 15 months of disappointing press conferences and continual delays, they’ve grown wary of false promises on their return.

In one of their recent Twitter storms, they sarcastically labelled the pilot plan a “lollipop”, nothing more than a quick fix to keep hopes up and assure admissions in NSW universities as enrolments begin this month.

It hasn’t helped that there are many unanswered questions surrounding the endeavour. Do students need to be vaccinated to return to Australia? Is there a specific vaccine they must get? Can students be vaccinated in Australia? WhatsApp groups and email chains have been inundated with these inquiries, but few official answers are available.

It’s especially worrisome considering there are thousands of students who have waited for guidelines from the Australian government before getting the jab in India, to avoid jeopardising their return in any way. Accounting for the tense COVID situation in the country, the haunting silence could be a matter of life and death.

Indian Link reached out to NSW Health with these vaccination inquiries and were told to “redirect (these) queries to the Commonwealth Government”. It’s a worrisome response considering the program is to be supported by NSW Health and NSW Police as per all official communications.

belle elim
Belle Lim, National President, Council of International Students Australia (supplied)

Does the NSW government have a clear plan ahead for its returning students?

“There’s a general understanding that regardless of vaccination status, international students returning to Australia will still need to quarantine as part of the pilot program,” said Belle Lim, National President, Council of International Students Australia. (She adds that, like many others, they await official communication to fully understand the plan moving forward.)

However, with the recent approval of South Australia’s proposed quarantine hub for returning students, based in north Adelaide at Parafield Airport, Lim remains optimistic of the same in NSW. Currently, the plan is pending final review from the Federal Government.

“The plan hopes to bring back 250 students to Sydney every fortnight. It’s slow considering there are at least 50,000 students waiting to return, but it’s a start,” she told Indian Link.

READ ALSO: ‘Regret choosing Australia’: Intl students give up on Oz universities

prayag rajesh sawai
Prayag Sawai. Source: supplied

Students wait and wonder

Studying online from his town in Maharashtra, Prayag Sawai is the only member of his family who hasn’t been vaccinated yet. He’s been waiting to know more about the requirements to return to Australia.

“There’s been no support or information from the Australian government. If they could at least give us some guidelines, we could be prepared on our end,” he explained. “In my town, vaccinations are easily available, but I waited.”

The 25-year-old is pursuing his Master of Professional Engineering in Telecommunications from the University of Sydney. Every day, he relies on his mobile internet to sign into online classes.

He elaborated, “I’m from a town called Arvi in Wardha district, Maharashtra which has no WiFi providers. It’s quite a big struggle.”

He will now be opting for the Covishield vaccine and hopes that the jab will be a step in the right direction. Like many others, he worries that India might not be one of the countries approved in the NSW plan, even if students can provide vaccination certificates.

“I’m at a point in my career where I can’t lose time. I’m also a sponsored student from the state of Maharashtra and if I discontinue my studies, they will rescind the scholarship. I have no option but to continue. If it were in my hands, I would definitely consider universities in other countries,” he sighed.

aishwary mandloi
Aishwary Mandloi. Souce: supplied

For students like Aishwary Mandloi, who has received both doses of India’s indigenous vaccine Covaxin, there could be a possibility he will need to get vaccinated again.

“It was very difficult to get a slot with the COWIN vaccination portal. Ultimately, I got the option of both Covishield and Covaxin, but the latter had an earlier appointment and given the tense situation in India at the time, I didn’t want any delays,” Mandloi explained.

As he continues to complete his Master of Data Science online from the University of Sydney, he hopes it isn’t a decision he will come to regret.

At present, Covaxin and the Russian Sputnik V are two of the three vaccines approved for use in India and they do not feature on the emergency use listing (EUL) of the World Health Organisation. This listing is crucial when it is being used by many countries as a benchmark for allowing international travel.

“As long as I’m in India, it’s better to be vaccinated. I don’t have any hopes of borders opening any time soon,” he admitted.

“I hope to at least attend my convocation in Australia.”

READ ALSO: Scorn over sympathy: on racist comments in online classes

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Rhea L Nath
Rhea L Nath is a writer, editor, and content creator based in Sydney. In 2021, she was the winner of the Alan Knight Student Award (NSW Premier's Multicultural Communications Awards)

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