Rutgers University will require Covid-19 vaccines for all students enrolled in the fall 2021 semester, making New Jersey’s flagship university among the first in the nation to require proof of vaccination to attend classes on campus.
“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,” Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway said in a message to students on Thursday.
Details: According to the university, “proof of vaccination” will be required for all students planning to attend classes on Rutgers’ three main campuses — New Brunswick, Newark and Camden — in the fall.
Students will be able to seek exemptions for medical or religious reasons, and students enrolled in entirely online or remote-only programs who do not use campus facilities will not be required to show proof of vaccination, according to the university.
Rutgers officials said in a statement that students will be able to show proof of receiving any vaccine authorized for use in the U.S. — currently Moderna, Pfizer and New Brunswick-based Johnson & Johnson. Students under 18 are currently only eligible for the Pfizer vaccine.
Rutgers enrolls around 70,000 students on its three campuses. According to the school’s dashboard, 1,756 students have tested positive for Covid-19 since last May.
Faculty and staff at Rutgers are being “strongly urged” to get the vaccine, Antonio Calcado, the university’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, said in a statement.
Context: This policy is a stark change from statements Rutgers officials issued in January. Biomedical and Health Sciences Senior Vice Chancellor Vicente Gracias told students in a video at the time that “Rutgers, with our stance of human liberties and our history of protecting that, the vaccine is not mandatory.”
In its statement on Thursday, the University’s messaging focused on shared responsibility.
“An effective vaccination program is a continuation of Rutgers’ commitment to health and safety for all members of our community of more than 71,000 students, the cities we are in and the communities we serve throughout New Jersey,” Calcado said.
Is it legal? Even as Gov. Phil Murphy floats the possibility of vaccine passports for New Jerseyans, legal experts have questioned whether businesses and employers can mandate the inoculations because of their Emergency Use Authorization approval status.
Guidance from the federal Food and Drug Administration has made clear the vaccines must be voluntary and individuals must “have the option to accept or refuse the EUA product.”
“The university is comfortable with the legal authority supporting this policy, which has been thoroughly reviewed by our Office of General Counsel,” Rutgers spokesperson Dory Devlin told POLITICO in an email.