Students who are enrolled and attending classes on campus at Rutgers University this fall must have the COVID-19 vaccine, the university announced on Thursday.
Rutgers, which boasts more than 70,000 students across its New Brunswick, N.J. campus, is believed to be the first higher education institution in the nation to require its students to be vaccinated.
“We are committed to health and safety for all members of our community, and adding COVID-19 vaccination to our student immunization requirements will help provide a safer and more robust college experience for our students,” said Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway.
One of the sites students can rely on to get their shots will be at Rutgers, which has been authorized by the state to administer them once available.
Rutgers has made exceptions for several groups of students – those who request exemptions for medical or religious reasons and those who are in online-only degree and continuing education programs.
Otherwise, Rutgers wants all of its students to be vaccinated so it not only can protect its community but also get back to business and have a more normal 2021-22 academic year – potentially opening up its campus for more student activities, more athletics, more face-to-face classes and more students in residences and dining halls. Holloway and other leaders expressed the importance of fully reopening in a letter to the community.
“The COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be safe and effective in preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death,” said Brian Strom, chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences and executive vice president for health affairs at Rutgers. “Vaccination is key to stopping the current pandemic and to the return of campus instruction and activities closer to what we were accustomed to before the pandemic drastically changed life at Rutgers.”
Rutgers expects that vaccines will become available in May to all populations, which would allow its 18-and-over students to choose from the three currently in circulation – Moderna, Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson. The university is requiring incoming freshmen to receive them, including 17-year-olds, which would mean that they would need to receive the Pfizer vaccine, the only one authorized to be administered to those under 18.
Given the rapid rollout of vaccines and states opening up their eligible pools and barring setbacks, most Americans who want them should be able to receive them by the summer.
The decision by Rutgers could prompt other colleges and universities to also demand the requirement, especially those who have promised a return to more traditional campus in the fall, want to give piece of mind to families and can potentially administer vaccines on campus as well.