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Announced on April 22, the University will require students without medical or religious exemption be vaccinated against COVID-19, posing challenges to international students in regions with different vaccination and public health policies.

Credit: Kylie Cooper

Although many students support Penn's vaccine mandate, several are concerned about the challenges the mandate will pose for international students, such as changing travel plans, the high costs of moving to the United States earlier, and missing in-person classes and New Student Orientation activities.

In an email sent to the Penn community on April 22, the University announced that all students without medical or religious exemptions will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to campus for an in-person fall semester. Students who are unable to receive the vaccine prior to arriving on campus will be able to receive the vaccine at the start of the semester at an on-campus vaccination site, but they will have to quarantine between doses.

Incoming College first year Kim Fung said that although he approves of the vaccine mandate, because he is from England — which currently is not offering the vaccine to people under the age of 30 —he will not be able to receive the vaccine in his home country prior to arriving on campus.

Fung said he would either have to arrive on campus a month earlier than he planned to be fully vaccinated before the start of the semester or come to campus at the start of the semester and receive the vaccine then. Fung added that both options have drawbacks, explaining that coming to the United States a month earlier would cut into his summer break but receiving the vaccine upon arrival and quarantining between doses would cause him to miss NSO activities and a few weeks of in-person classes.

Fung also noted that coming to the United States early might not be financially feasible for some incoming international students due to the costs of living off-campus before on-campus move-in begins.

Rising College sophomore Tookah Tarraf echoed Fung’s concerns, adding that the University should allow international students who receive the vaccine on campus to still participate in NSO activities and in-person classes in between doses.

“I think that people should be encouraged to get the vaccine, but making it a requirement puts some people at a disadvantage because it's not really available to everybody,” Tarraf said. “My family is from Egypt and they're not getting vaccinated there, and I know that can also happen [to other students] because Penn has a lot of international students.”

Rising College sophomore Charlie Schumer said Penn should exempt international students from quarantining in between doses. He added that if all domestic students are fully vaccinated prior to arriving on campus, the Penn community could achieve high enough levels of immunity to grant exemptions for international students.

“As long as the vast majority of students are getting the vaccine, there's no reason why [international] students need to be financially burdened,” Schumer said.

Incoming College first year Lex Gilbert said the University should allow early on-campus move-in for international students who need to receive the vaccine before the start of the semester, noting that the University currently allows early move-in for students participating in pre-orientation programs. 

Rising College sophomore Mahdi Bouchekouk agreed that Penn should provide accommodations for international students who are unable to receive the vaccine in their home countries.

“If [Penn] is going to require students to get vaccinated knowing that it isn't readily available worldwide, then they should at least give them some type of leeway,” Bouchekouk said. 

Schumer noted that requiring students to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 is necessary to bring students back to campus without spreading the disease to the West Philadelphia community. He added that requiring the vaccine could lead to high enough levels of immunity among the Penn community and could prompt the University to lift other restrictions, such as Student Campus Compact guidelines.

“If we're confident that everyone on campus has the vaccine, then [Penn] can start to lift restrictions and [we] can have a normal year,” Schumer said.

Gilbert added that requiring students to be fully vaccinated is necessary for incoming students to have a normal first-year experience.

“I would like to go to campus and feel safe and be able to do everything that I should be able to do as a [first year], like in-person events, classes, and being able to hang out in my friends’ dorms and having them over in mine,” Gilbert said. 

University administrators announced on June 1 that non-exempt faculty, staff, and postdoctoral students will be required to be fully vaccinated by Aug. 1, making Penn the fourth Ivy League institution — following Brown, Columbia, and Yale — to require that its employees be vaccinated against COVID-19.