Rutgers to require students to be vaccinated to return to school in fall

Rutgers University will require the COVID-19 vaccine for students who are enrolled for the 2021 fall semester, the school announced Thursday.

It is unclear if Rutgers is the first university to make such a requirement.

Rutgers officials, in a release, said they felt assurances from the federal government that vaccines will be available for all by the end of May, combined with assessments by public health experts, prompted them to adjust the vaccine requirements for the fall semester.

“We are committed to health and safety for all members of our community,” Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway said. “Adding COVID-19 vaccination to our student immunization requirements will help provide a safer and more robust college experience for our students.”

In a message to the Rutgers community, Holloway, Chief Operating Officer Antonio Calcado and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Prabhas Moghe noted widespread vaccination will accelerate the return to a pre-pandemic normal on the university’s campuses, including increased in-person course offerings, more on-campus events and activities and more collaboration in instructional and research projects.

In addition, Rutgers has received approval from New Jersey state officials to administer vaccines on campus to faculty, staff and students once vaccine supplies are available to the university. More information will be forthcoming on vaccination clinic sites. However, faculty, staff and students are urged to not wait to sign up for vaccines at a Rutgers site.

Students enrolling at Rutgers who are under age 18 will be advised to receive the Pfizer vaccine, the only one of three vaccines currently approved in the United States that may be administered to 16- and 17-year-olds. Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are approved for those 18 years and older.

Rutgers officials said students may request an exemption from vaccination for medical or religious reasons. Students enrolled in fully remote online degree programs and individuals participating in online-only continuing education programs will not be required to be vaccinated.

Calcado said safety is a 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,” he said.

As vaccine supplies are made available to the wider population, faculty and staff are strongly urged to receive the vaccine, Calcado said.

Brian Strom, chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences and executive vice president for health affairs at Rutgers, stressed the safety of the vaccines.

“The COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be safe and effective in preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death,” he said. “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.”