Vaccination poses additional challenge for international students in transition to in-person classes

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By Sophia De Guzman

The transition to post-secondary education can be a difficult experience, but for international students, there’s a whole other set of challenges. Getting an approved vaccination status has made returning to campus more difficult for students abroad. 

On June 9, Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi announced that the fall semester would act as a transition period, as the university will gradually increase in-person activities with an aim to have winter 2022 be fully in-person.

Many domestic students were excited about the return to in-person learning, but for students outside of the country, the excitement was shadowed by a cloud of uncertainty surrounding the logistics of coming back to campus—particularly around vaccination status. 

As of Sept. 7, the university accepts the World Health Organization’s (WHO) approved COVID-19 vaccines by students accessing campus. However, students who were vaccinated abroad may still face challenges in receiving Ontario’s vaccine passport. Set to be fully implemented on Oct. 22, the passport will only accept Health Canada approved vaccines.

Third-year social work student Dezerie Fernando said she didn’t realize her vaccination status could affect how she returned to Canada and the length of her quarantine.

“I knew that [Canada was] open to travellers, and you have to quarantine, but we didn’t know that [the brand of vaccine] would affect how much you needed to quarantine,” she said. 

Fernando is an international student and received support from Ryerson’s International Student Support (ISS) with her journey back to Canada, like many international students will this winter.

Typically responsible for helping students adjust to living in Canada with immigration consultants and advisors on hand, ISS has now become responsible for helping international students meet the COVID-19 requirements for entry into the country. Students coming back to Canada receive weekly emails and individual support, with information about restriction updates, insurance information and locations for vaccine clinic pop-ups. 

International students will be contacted and guided by ISS on what is necessary to enter the country, helped with finding off-campus accommodations for their isolation and directed to places where they can get vaccinated with Canadian-approved vaccines or be given booster shots. However, Canadians who went to another country during the pandemic must navigate the transition back on their own. 

On developing a plan to re-enter campus after a year of living in Pakistan, third-year journalism student Ayleen Karamat said, “Ryerson hasn’t informed [me of] anything…I literally found out through the RyersonSafe app specifically that I’m not allowed to enter because I’m technically unvaccinated. They haven’t done anything to help that. It’s really frustrating when you don’t know what to do.” 

Karamat’s family had to pay for the only vaccine available to them—the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, which is currently approved in 71 countries, not including Canada. Due to the status of this vaccine, Karamat would still have to quarantine upon arrival to Canada, likely in a hotel as she does not have family in Canada who can house her for the 14-day period. 

“We don’t have Canada-approved vaccines in Iran. There’s only AstraZeneca, and that’s so rare,” said first-year business management student, Lyla Amir*, expressing frustration with how complicated entering the country will be for her family. However, with the help of ISS services, she has been able to receive her second dose of a Canada-approved vaccine. 

As of Aug. 9, the public health restriction mandating a hotel stay at the beginning of international travellers’ quarantine was lifted, provided that they could find another suitable place to stay, away from shared living spaces and immunocompromised people.

Also as of Aug. 9, international travellers were no longer mandated to stay at a hotel at the beginning of their quarantine, provided they could prove that they were fully vaccinated with a Health Canada approved vaccine.

According to Fernando, lifting this and similar restrictions can relieve international students of significant stresses and financial burdens. However, as seen throughout the pandemic, restrictions can be lifted and re-implemented over the course of weeks, so students who have been abroad since the beginning of the pandemic are reliant on the university. 

Support programs like ISS, are going to play a crucial role in the potentially fully in-person winter semester. 

*Name changed for privacy concerns

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