The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will be accessible to international students in the UK as it is rolled out across the country, The PIE News has learned.
The country’s Minister of Universities, Michelle Donelan, has also confirmed that no fees will be charged concerning Covid-19 for testing or treatment.
The Department of Health and Social Care announced on December 2 that the vaccine would be available to priority groups across the UK within a week after experts from the Regulatory Agency for Medicines and Healthcare Products approved its use.
The vaccine will be distributed in order of age and risk to the rest of the population, including those who are clinically highly vulnerable, to priority groups, including care home residents and employees, people over 80 and health and care workers.
Overall, some 40 million doses of this vaccine have been ordered, enough to inoculate up to a third of the population, and most doses are anticipated in the first half of next year.
The government has also said that, through several vaccine developers, it has “secured early access to over 357 million vaccine doses.”
The DHSC confirmed to the PIE that these vaccinations could be accessed by international students just as they can access healthcare,” meaning that older international students or those with underlying medical conditions will fall into priority categories.
“This vaccine, when combined with effective treatments, will be a vital part of making Covid-19 a manageable disease, hopefully allowing us to return to normal in the future,” said Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock, following the approval of the vaccine.
The UK Government expressed its commitment to support international students during Covid-19, with Michelle Donelan, Minister of Universities, writing an open letter to students thanking them for their patience with the provisions put in place to address the spread of the virus.
“We are pleased that you have chosen to study with us and look forward to welcoming many more of you to our world-class universities in the years to come,” she said in a letter.
“I understand that international students may have additional questions as we approach the end of the 2020/21 fall academic year.
“Whether you are currently at your chosen university, studying remotely from your home country, or planning to study here in the future, I am writing to you directly to provide you with support and guidance at this challenging time,” she said.
This guidance focuses on several key points, including teaching and learning, winter breaks and travel, resuming or starting courses in January 2021, physical health, mental health and well-being, and the offer of Covid-19 immigration concessions and post-study work.
In his letter, Donelan said that the Office of Students is taking “very seriously” the potential impacts of the pandemic on teaching and learning, and will be monitoring providers who have moved the provision mainly online because of restrictions – and if students have concerns, they will investigate.
The letter focuses on international student movements over the holiday period and the new term, with Donelan noting that some students may need to stay on campus.
Where this is the case, it is the expectation of the] state that HE providers should help ensure that you are well looked after,” she said.”
Donelan said the government advises international students to return to the university over five weeks or more.
This will see students coming back first on practical courses, staggered over two weeks from their expected start date of the term (from January 4).
“To continue their studies at home, students on all remaining courses should be offered online learning from the beginning of the term, and should be asked to return to their university over two weeks beginning on 25 January,” she said.