International Students Face Double Vaccine Injections to Attend Elite Colleges

International Students Face Double Vaccine Injections to Attend Elite Colleges
portrait of Anne Dennon
By Anne Dennon

Published on August 25, 2021

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International students bring diversity, a global perspective, and big tuition checks to U.S. colleges. When COVID-19 mandates shuttered schools and sent students home last year, international student enrollment plummeted. This year, colleges say recruiting and retaining international students is a big priority.

Even as student-visa issuance returns to pre-pandemic levels, COVID-19 vaccine mandates create a new obstacle for international students who want to learn in the U.S. Over 700 U.S. colleges require that students get COVID-19 vaccinations before fall term. Some of these schools say that international students who received a vaccine that hasn't been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the World Health Organization (WHO) must get revaccinated.

Eight COVID-19 vaccines have emergency use approval from the WHO: Pfizer/BioNTech, three versions of the AstraZeneca vaccine, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Sinopharm, and Sinovac. Two vaccines — Johnson & Johnson and Moderna — have received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the FDA. Additionally, the FDA recently gave the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine full approval.

Schools including Johns Hopkins University, New York University, Brandeis University, and the University of Chicago say international students arriving on campus who have received any other vaccine must quarantine until they receive a second full series of approved COVID-19 shots.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that people who received unapproved COVID-19 vaccines may be revaccinated with one of the FDA-approved vaccines after 28 days.

However, no research or data exists to indicate whether compounding or combining vaccines is safe. Dr. Michael Mina of Harvard's School of Public Health said, "We don't want to force college students coming in from abroad to our universities to be the guinea pigs for those trials." Harvard University will not ask international students to receive an additional COVID-19 vaccine.

Students from India and Russia are likely the most impacted. Neither India's Covaxin nor Russia's Sputnik V vaccine has WHO or FDA approval. For students concerned about the safety and logistics of taking two different vaccines, the requirement may add to the challenges of attending college in the U.S.

Vaccine Requirements at Colleges Outside the U.S.

Many of the leading colleges in the U.S. — far and away the top destination for international college students — require in-person students to get COVID-19 vaccines. While most universities worldwide strongly recommend the vaccines, mandates are less common.

In the U.K. — second to the U.S. in popularity among international students — the National Union of Students condemned mandatory vaccination. The country's University and College Union, which represents faculty and support staff, called mandatory vaccinations "hugely discriminatory" against those unable to be vaccinated and international students. Neither Oxford University nor Cambridge University require a COVID-19 vaccine.

Just one college in the U.K. has made COVID-19 vaccines a "mandatory requirement." Hartpury University and College will bar unvaccinated students from living on campus and taking part in sports and social activities.

Canada, New Zealand, and Australia also draw large shares of border-crossing students. Most Canadian colleges have not made the vaccines mandatory for on-campus students, with the exception of McMaster University, Mohawk College, and Seneca College. However, vaccine passports in some provinces could restrict unvaccinated students in the future.

In other parts of the world, New Zealand's borders remain closed. And Australia's borders remain closed to international students.

Earlier this year, a study of 2,513 current and prospective international students from 153 countries found around 65% were willing to get a COVID-19 vaccine, while just 10% were not. When it comes to mandatory vaccination for students, 23% did not support the idea and another 27% were unsure.

Feature Image: Luis Alvarez / DigitalVision / Getty Images

International student numbers declined dramatically at U.S. colleges this fall, spelling trouble for schools, the economy, and future international exchange. Colleges across the U.S. are increasingly requiring COVID-19 vaccination for on-campus learning. Check out the full list of colleges that require the vaccine. Colleges already require vaccines, but COVID-19 vaccines are approved for emergency use only, thrusting new mandates into a legal gray zone.