SAIT’s response to COVID vaccine inequities

Vaccine inequity researcher: McGill master’s student Siobhan Carroll. (Screenshot by Erin St Jean/The Press)

International students at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) who are unable to get COVID-19 vaccines in their home countries have options here in Canada.

Though just over 50 per cent of the world population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the New York Times, about 75 per cent of those vaccines have been given in higher-income countries, including Canada and the United States.

In lower-income countries, the number of vaccine doses is around 0.6 per cent.

Though COVID-19 vaccines seem relatively affordable – between US$2 and $40 – some lower-income countries do not have the financial means to supply their citizens with the vaccine.

“For some of the low-income countries, this is actually as much as their entire per capita health care budget,” said Siobhan Carroll, a first-year MSc student at McGill who is studying epidemiology.

“If these low-income countries spend their money on vaccines, they won’t have any money left to also focus on other health problems because COVID’s not the only thing.”

Carroll says that the United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are encouraging wealthier countries to donate money and unused vaccines to help increase vaccination rates in low-income countries.

She adds that this program – COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access, or COVAX – is extremely important to reducing COVID-19 vaccine inequity.

“At this point, (COVAX is) kind of the main way that we’re going to be able to achieve full vaccination for everyone.”

Until this goal is reached, this leaves many people unvaccinated for reasons out of their control, including international SAIT students.

Support ecosystem leader: Patrick Sullivan, director of SAIT International Centre. (Screenshot by Erin St Jean/The Press)

Patrick Sullivan, the director of SAIT’s International Centre, says that at the beginning of the Fall 2021 semester, only about 30 to 40 international students – out of 700 to 900 – were unvaccinated.

The home country of each student would have affected whether or not they were vaccinated – India and Colombia, for example, have relatively high vaccination rates. The lowest vaccination rates are primarily seen in African countries.

International students who were unvaccinated upon arrival in Calgary were able to be on campus using negative COVID tests, but starting in January, negative tests will no longer be accepted.

Sullivan says that these measures will make it safer for students to be on campus in the new year.

“We get a lot of surveys on (prospective students) and their sentiment about studying in Canada. The number one concern for those students and their families is safety,” said Sullivan.

“Knowing that there are controls in places is critically important for those students and their families who are concerned about their children being abroad in a foreign land.”

International students have been identified as a group that could be unfairly disadvantaged if they arrive unvaccinated. – Patrick Sullivan

Another measure that SAIT is taking to help unvaccinated international students is what Sullivan calls “an ecosystem of supports.”

“We’ve created a quarantine package so (the student) can stay in SAIT residence,” Sullivan said, adding that the quarantine package provides students with student staff at the airport to welcome them, authorized transportation which SAIT covers from to residence, food for the two weeks, as well as virtual programming to keep the students engaged.

“International students have been identified as a group that could be unfairly disadvantaged if they arrive unvaccinated,” Sullivan said. “They will have accommodation at SAIT to do (COVID) testing, while they complete the schedule of their vaccines.”

About Erin St Jean 2 Articles
As a news reporting and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Erin St Jean is working as a writer for The Press during the 2021-22 academic year.