Editor’s Note season 2 episode 1: International students face difficulties accessing vaccines
The academic year has begun with the return of a new normal, which was made possible largely by vaccines. However, some international students have found it difficult to get vaccines that are compliant with the University’s mandate. In this week’s episode, Senior Multimedia Editor sophomore Kamala Madireddi discusses these obstacles international students needed to overcome with staff reporter sophomore Olivia Danner. Theme music by Copy Chief Jordan Coley.
This transcript has been edited slightly for clarity:
KAMALA MADIREDDI (0:15-1:45): The academic year is off to a start, and things are beginning to look more like normal. Most classes are taking place in actual classrooms with students physically in the chairs, with masks on of course. The shield of our new normal comes in the form of the vaccine. Ninety-eight percent of Washington University students, faculty, staff and trainees are fully vaccinated according to the Danforth Campus COVID-19 Dashboard. However, some international students have found it challenging to access vaccines in order to comply with the University’s vaccine mandate.
I’m Kamala Madireddi, and you’re listening to Editor’s Note, Student Life’s weekly podcast breaking down our biggest stories with the reporters and editors that covered them.
With the return of in-person learning, many international students made their way back to campus. Those who got vaccinated in their home countries had to make sure that their vaccines were compliant with the University’s policy, which follows CDC guidance and allows any FDA or WHO Emergency Use Authorization-approved vaccine.
I spoke with staff reporter sophomore Olivia Danner, who reported on the obstacles international students overcame in order to access a vaccine compliant with the WashU vaccine mandate.
OLIVIA DANNER (1:46-2:19): At first, some students got vaccinated in the spring and early summer with vaccines that were not, at the time, approved by the WHO. But over the course of the summer, they were approved by the WHO. So at first, they were concerned that these vaccines may not be approved and that they would, you know, have to work with the University further to make sure that they were complying with the vaccine mandate. But luckily, the vaccines they had gotten were later approved, for the students I talked to.
KM (2:20-2:47): There were two vaccines available for students from China: Beijing Sinopharm, which was the first Chinese vaccine approved by the WHO, and Sinovac. While some students, who had received Sinovac, were worried about the vaccine not being WHO approved, Danner mentioned that another student wasn’t extremely worried about not having the vaccine she received approved for the University’s vaccine mandate.
OD (2:48-3:05): One of the students I talked to basically said, you know, she was pretty confident that the University was going to approve the Chinese vaccine, she was from China, because there were so many Chinese international students, and it really wouldn’t make sense for the school to make all these students stay at home.
KM (3:06-3:12): Danner also spoke with sophomore Tim Wu, who described the different vaccination options in China.
TW (3:13-3:55): Well, there are two kinds of vaccines that were certified in China called Sinovac and Beijing Sinopharm. And, frankly speaking, it was quite easy for us to get vaccinated in China with WHO-certified vaccines because that’s what China has to offer. But we cannot get any shots from Pfizer and Moderna because they’re from America. And I do know that there are some local manufacturers of Pfizer, in China, in Wuhan or Shanghai, but they are not open to Chinese citizens.
KM (3:56-4:10): In our conversation, Danner explained that the Beijing Sinopharm vaccine was approved by the WHO earlier than the Sinovac vaccine. This led to a higher availability of Sinovac, which proved to be a struggle for Wu.
TW (4:11-4:37): At some point, because, you know, especially when Sinovac was not included into the WHO list. At that time, most of the vaccination stations, they only gave people Sinovac, but Sinovac was not approved at that time. And only a few stations gave Beijing Sinopharm, so I actually went to three different places, before getting vaccinated with Beijing Sinopharm.
KM (4:38-4:46): Having WHO approval wasn’t the only reason Wu wanted the Beijing Sinopharm vaccine as opposed to the Sinovac.
TW (4:47-5:13): I want to get Beijing Sinopharm apart from the fact that it was the only vaccine that got approved by WashU is that it also offers a great protection rate to us. Sinovac only offers around like 50% protection rate towards COVID. So Beijing Sinopharm actually offers around 70% protection rate so it’s actually pretty good.
KM (5:14-5:5:47): While Sinovac has a 51% efficacy rate against symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection, the WHO also reports the vaccine offers 100% protection against severe COVID-19 and hospitalization.
Danner also spoke to freshman Leonard Zhao, who received two doses of Sinovac in China and then received two doses of Pfizer in the United States before the start of the school year. Zhao explained why he decided to get an additional two doses of the vaccine.
LZ (5:48-6:21): Before I leave Beijing, I tested my antibody value after the vaccine. And then the value is very low. So, I thought I could maybe get Pfizer in the U.S. I mean, I had to get Pfizer in the U.S., in the future. So, I think, why not just get it in New York? So I got Pfizer in a CVS pharmacy, and then also the CVS Pharmacy here in Delmar Loop.
KM (6:22-6:39): Danner reported that the University does not encourage students to receive four doses of the COVID vaccine, especially if they have been fully vaccinated with two doses of one vaccine. Zhao mentioned that he did not disclose his previous vaccinations to the CVS employees.
LZ (6:40-7:07): I heard someone say that if you’re going to get vaccinated in the University, they said, you should not tell them you got vaccinated in China because they might not give you a vaccination because you have already been vaccinated. When I got vaccinated in CVS, I was saying I’m getting the first dose of Pfizer so I didn’t even mention I got vaccinated in China.
KM (7:08-7:15): Danner added that there might be other reasons that motivated students to get vaccinated another time in the United States.
OD (7:16-7:33): But I have also heard that some vaccines or I think both of the vaccines in China’s efficacy rates aren’t as high as the vaccines in the U.S. I think that might be one reason why students would choose to get revaccinated in the U.S.
KM (7:34-7:50): The University is in the process of vaccinating students who had not been vaccinated at all or received one dose of different vaccines. Executive Director of Habif Health and Wellness Center Dr. Cheri LeBlanc wrote to Danner about this process.
OD (7:51-8:05): LeBlanc said that the deadline for international students to get fully vaccinated was extended and that the school provided students bi-weekly testing until they were able to get vaccinated.
KM (8:06-8:16): Overall, Danner echoed Wu’s observations that the process of getting vaccinated for international students was very straightforward and laid out by the administration.
TW (8:17-8:42): I think WashU’s policy was quite transparent. So it just released all the policies about vaccination, like early in March, or like April, so that we can have a clear view about which vaccines that are approved and which vaccines that are not approved. And in theory, WashU is very inclusive, it accepts all WHO-certified vaccines.
KM (8:50-8:56): Editor’s Note will be back next week to break down another developing story. For Student Life Media, I’m Kamala Madireddi.
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