International students in the UK will be able to access the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as it is rolled out across the country.
The country’s universities minister Michelle Donelan has also confirmed that no charges will apply to testing or treatment in relation to Covid-19.
On December 2, the Department of Health and Social Care announced that the vaccine would be available across the UK to priority groups within a week- following experts from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency approving its use.
The vaccine will be rolled out to the priority groups including care home residents and staff, people over 80 and health and care workers, then to the rest of the population in order of age and risk, including those who are clinically extremely vulnerable.
Some 40 million doses have been ordered of this vaccine overall – enough to inoculate up to a third of the population, and the majority of doses anticipated in the first half of next year.
The government has also said it has “secured early access to over 357 million vaccines doses” through several vaccine developers.
The DHSC confirmed to The PIE that international students will “be able to access these vaccinations, just as they are able to access healthcare”, meaning older international students or those with underlying medical conditions will fall into priority categories.
“This vaccine, when combined with effective treatments, will form a vital part in making Covid-19 a manageable disease, hopefully allowing us to return to normality in the future,” said Health and Social Care secretary Matt Hancock said, following the vaccine’s approval.
The UK government has expressed its commitment to support international students during Covid-19, with universities minister Michelle Donelan writing an open letter to students thanking them for their patience at provisions introduced to tackle the spread of the virus.
“We are delighted that you have chosen to study with us and look forward to welcoming many more of you to our world-class universities in future years,” she said in the letter.
“I understand that international students may have additional questions as we approach the end of the 2020/21 autumn academic term.
“Whether you are currently at your chosen university, are studying remotely from your home country, or plan to study here in the future, I am writing to you directly to provide you with support and guidance at this challenging time,” she added.
This guidance focuses around several key points including teaching and learning, the winter break and travel, resuming or commencing courses in January 2021, physical health, mental health and wellbeing and Covid-19 immigration concessions and post-study work offer.
In the letter Donelan said that the Office of Students is taking the potential impacts of the pandemic on teaching and learning “very seriously”, and will be monitoring providers which have moved provision predominantly online because of restrictions – and if students have concerns they will investigate.
The letter focuses on the movements of international students over the holiday period and the new term- with Donelan noting that some students may have to stay on campuses.
“Where this is the case, it is [the] government’s expectation that HE providers should help to ensure you are well looked after,” she said.
Donelan said that the government is advising international students to return to university during a period staggered over five weeks.
This will see students on practical courses returning first, staggered over two weeks from their normal start of term date (from January 4).
“Students on all remaining courses should be offered online learning from the beginning of term so they can continue their studies at home, and should be asked to return to their university over a two week period from January 25,” she said.