How international students, faculty feel about COVID-19 rollouts in their home countries

Assistant French professor Cynthia Laborde sits in her office on April 20 in Hammond Hall. Laborde received her two shots of Pfizer on Mar 6 and Mar 27. 

Reem Shishakly, senior lecturer and coordinator of Arabic language, said her friends in Damascus, Syria desperately want to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. 

As the U.S. expanded its vaccine availability, countries around the world still lack the resources to vaccinate their citizens. Many countries are still waiting for doses to arrive, but many citizens still have concerns.

Shishakly is one of the many UTA community members witnessing the contrast in  COVID-19 response and vaccine rollout schemes between the U.S. and their home countries.

Syria is in the midst of a decade-long civil war that has led to a shortage of basic necessities such as food and electricity. Hospitals in the country are not properly equipped, and there isn’t enough medicine to treat everyone, Shishakly said. 

The pandemic has added another obstacle to the lives of Syrian civilians, and a recent third wave of COVID-19 cases has overwhelmed hospitals.  

Shishakly said her friends are waiting for any vaccine available to them. 

Kaustubh Rajpathak, computer science and engineering graduate student, is from Pune, Maharashtra, India. The country is seeing a large surge of COVID-19 cases, with Maharashtra at the center of the surge with more than four million cases. 

Nearly 350,000 new cases were confirmed in India on April 25, more than any country on any day since the pandemic began, according to India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.  

Despite the surge, Rajpathak said his family back home has been vaccinated.  

All of his family received the Covishield vaccine, which is manufactured locally by the Serum Institute of India. Covishield and Covaxin are the two vaccines offered in India, and Pfizer-BioNTech are in talks with the government to provide vaccine supply.  

Rajpathak said he plans to get a vaccine when the semester ends. 

Electrical engineering junior Tabita Barakagwira said she is not worried about her family back home in Kigali, Rwanda. But rather, her family is more worried for her here in the U.S.  

“The situation here is worse than it is back home,” Barakagwira said.  

As of April 26, the U.S. reported 578 cases per 100,000 people in the past 30 days. Rwanda has about 26 cases per 100,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID data tracker.  

The high risk people in her family — her father, grandparents and aunt — are already vaccinated. And other family members are open to taking the vaccine because the benefits outweigh the possible side effects, Barakagwira said. 

She plans to get her vaccine shots either before or after finals, she said.  

African countries have experience dealing with epidemics and are good at containing such large-scale diseases, she said. 

A report from BBC stated that a quick government reaction, a younger population, public cooperation and experience with past epidemics such as Ebola contributed to Africa’s success with containing the coronavirus.  

Rwanda received its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines on March 3 through the global COVAX initiative for vaccine equity. The first batch carried 240,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and the second batch carried 102,960 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.  

Rwanda is currently prioritizing health personnel, people over 65 years old, people with underlying health conditions and other frontline workers.  

Barakagwira said she understands that people in the U.S. may have fears regarding COVID-19 vaccines, she said. But she still finds it strange that people are not taking advantage of the chance to get vaccinated. 

“[If] they have that kind of access back home, I’m sure a lot more people would be vaccinated by now, probably even the whole country,” she said. 

Meanwhile, French graduate student Eddy Coulibaly said people in the Ivory Coast are reluctant to get vaccinated. 

As of April 24, about 0.44% of the country’s population has received at least one dose. The country has about 25.7 million inhabitants with about 277 COVID-19 related deaths and 45,697 coronavirus cases. 

“They don’t really trust the vaccine, and they think that corona doesn’t really exist,” Coulibaly said. 

The country began its vaccine campaign on March 1 after receiving 504,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine delivered by the global COVAX initiative. 

His family is not skeptical about vaccines, but his friends are, he said. And he is skeptical about the AstraZeneca vaccine, too. 

He heard that the vaccine has caused issues in European countries and is now being sent to his country, he said. There has been fear surrounding the UK-made AstraZeneca vaccine after it caused blood clotting in several people and was put on hold. But he trusts the vaccines in the U.S.  

He got his first shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on April 10, and is waiting for his second shot on May 3. 

French assistant professor Cynthia Laborde said there is a consensus in France that the French government is not procuring enough vaccines for everyone, and the distribution is not well-organized. She said French people are not happy with the way the government has handled the pandemic. 

French President Emmanuel Macron imposed a third national lockdown on March 31 through the end of April. The lockdown includes a curfew where people have to stay within 6.2 miles from their homes between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. For the metropolitan France, a curfew is in order from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m.   

Among her circle in France, including her parents, the majority are skeptical about the newer vaccines that they don’t completely understand, and people are not in a rush to get them, Laborde said.  

France has opened up its vaccine eligibility to people between age 60 and 70 beginning April 16, and people between age 50 and 60 will be eligible starting May 15. The French government is administering the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines. The Johnson & Johnson vaccines will be available soon, according to a French government press release.  

But the AstraZeneca vaccine has caused fear after it caused blood clotting in several people and was put on hold.  

Laborde said she reassured her parents of the vaccines’ safety by leading by example by getting a vaccine, she said. She also told them her friends in the U.S. are vaccinated and doing fine. 

Laborde got her first shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on March 6 and second shot on March 27. 

In Syria, Shishakly said the Syrian government is working to get vaccines from China and Russia, the two countries that are willing to work with the Syrian government. 

Syria is currently offering the Russian Sputnik V vaccine to frontline medical workers, according to Reuters. 

She is thankful that her family is in the U.S., and some of them have already taken the vaccine, although she has not and said she is waiting to hear more scientific research before getting inoculated. 

On April 22, through the global COVAX initiative, more than 53,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in Northwest Syria, where conflict and displacement have continued, according to a news release from the U.N. 

The country hopes to vaccinate 20% of its citizens by the end of the year, prioritizing health workers, the elderly and people with chronic diseases, the new release stated. 

Shishakly hopes that the international community would lift the sanctions off Syria, so that people can have not only the vaccine but their lives back, she said. 


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