Relief for Indian students as EU eases Covid curbs for visitors

Students planning to pursue higher education in major study destinations such as Germany, France, Netherlands, Italy and Spain are relieved after the European Union (EU) policymakers on Thursday agreed to ease Covid-19 travel restrictions for non-EU visitors provided they are vaccinated.

But at the same time, students are in a fix as out of the two major vaccines being administered in India, only AstraZeneca (Covishield) is on the approved list of EU and there is no mention of Covaxin.

According to the European Commission website, the AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved and given conditional marketing authorisation. Students between the age group of 18-44 are desperately rushing for Covishield, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, manufactured locally by the Serum Institute of India (SII), Pune, over the indigenous Covaxin, developed by Bharat Biotech, Hyderabad.

To add to their woes, students are unable to get vaccination jabs as the Maharashtra state government has currently suspended vaccination for 18-44 age groups. Mukti Bajaj, a student planning to study in Germany said, "My academic course begins in September. I am unable to book a slot because the state government has suspended the vaccination drive for those above 18."

Bajaj added, "Slots at private hospitals are booked within a fraction of two to three seconds. To add to that, I have to opt only for Covishield as Covaxin has not been approved in Europe."

The state government should consider the plight of students planning to study abroad and provide vaccination on priority, said Leroy Chettiar, a student planning to pursue an exchange programme in Europe. Chettiar said, "According to the CoWIN portal, the second dose of Covishield should be taken between 84 and 112 days after the first dose. Also, I need to wait for at least 14 days after the second dose before I can travel abroad."

Chettiar said, "This means if I do not get the first dose by first week of June, I will not have time for the second dose as I need to fly in the first week of September. The state should start vaccination for those above 18 to prevent disruption of our plans."

The European policymakers have also struck a deal to lift travel barriers among European countries through a digital certificate system providing information about Covid-19 vaccination, negative test or recovery from the disease.

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