COVID-19 vaccinations have brought hope to people and their chances of resuming normalcy. However, the access to vaccines and their ability to be vaccinated is slowing down the process.
In Nova Scotia, international students are unable to receive a health card unless they have been living in the province for 13 months, which further restricts them from accessing the vaccinations.
However, the Cape Breton University Students’ Union has taken the initiative to help international students book their COVID-19 vaccine appointments. Madlyn O’Brien, the Union President, stated that international students can book their appointments via phone, however, there are certain barriers that make it difficult for them.
Among some of the problems, Madlyn highlighted that the lack of minutes on their cellphones is one of the major challenges. She added that most international students max out at 60 minutes whereas the waiting time for the booking line is around 80 minutes.
While speaking to the CBC Radio’s Information Morning Cape Breton, Madlyn highlighted that a few international students work multiple jobs or have enrolled in summer courses, while many other face language barriers, all resulting in increased anxiety in students.
The Cape Breton University Students’ Union, on June 22, released a secure booking programme to help students overcome these barriers. In her statement, O’Brien stated that students need to submit their name, address, phone number and email address, which the union acquires from the students. She added that four union members then take turns booking the appointments which, after the students receive the email confirmation, can be changed via the booking portal to a time that is convenient for them.
Madlyn had spoken with the university in a bid to estimate the number of international students who had faced issues while booking vaccination appointments. While the union does not have a specific number, the university confirmed that an alarming number of international students have faced problems.
She also pointed out that the students are willing to receive their vaccines, as “they know it is the right thing to do…”. However, regulations from the provincial government have restricted their access to the vaccines.
Her statements revealed that the Students’ Union has been urging the provincial government to issue MSI cards to international students sooner to help the university attract more university but more importantly, help international students receive proper healthcare.
O’Brien pointed out that international students in Ontario are not eligible for health cards, however, other provinces are quicker in offering health to international students than Nova Scotia. For instance, New Brunswick offers international students their health cards upon arrival, including any other dependants that come along with them.
The success in recruiting international students at the university has helped in increasing the overall population in 2019, a first in 20 years. However, the pandemic resulted in a drop in international student enrolment in 2020.
Concluding her statements, Madlyn O’Brien added that if more international students required help in booking their respective vaccine appointments, the union will either employ more people or look for volunteers to book the appointments.