WOODLAND PARK, N.J. — Rutgers University officials announced Thursday that all students who take on-campus classes in the fall will be required to be vaccinated for COVID-19 — apparently the first mandate of its kind in the nation —while faculty and staff members are “strongly urged” to get one of the available vaccines.
A national organization that advocates for the health of college students said it was not aware of any other schools that require COVID vaccinations currently.
“While we know it has been a topic of discussion among campus decision-makers, at this point in time, we are not aware of any other colleges or universities that are mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for students,” Rachel Mack, a spokeswoman for the organization, the American College Health Association, said in an email.
Rutgers already requires other kinds of vaccinations, including for measles, mumps and rubella, according to its website.
It has been difficult to to receive the COVID vaccines in New Jersey, which still limits vaccinations to those who are at least 65 years old or who have a preexisting condition, such as asthma or diabetes, as well as smokers. But state officials have said they expect to get additional supplies and ramp up vaccinations in the next few weeks, and federal officials have said they anticipate vaccines to be available to all Americans by the end of May.
“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 statement.
The university announced the requirement in a news release, which said students “may request an exemption from vaccination for medical or religious reasons.” It said students who are enrolled in online courses will not be required to be vaccinated.
The release does not specify a requirement for faculty and staff but said they are “strongly urged to get the vaccine as vaccine supplies are made available to the wider population.”
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Dory Devlin, a Rutgers spokeswoman, said in an email that the university determined that students have a positivity rate between 60% and 70% higher than faculty and staff.
“Given that students are easily identified as a cohort creating transmission and infection, we chose to concentrate on them,” she wrote. “Further, this is the community that goes back to their extended families and communities, and we believe that by concentrating on them we will make New Jersey safer.”
The university website indicates that Rutgers may require faculty and staff to get the vaccine at some point, specifying that it will not be required “at this time.”
The website also says students, faculty and staff who will be on campus must continue to participate in a university COVID testing program, practice social distancing and wear masks.
Other universities have been considering COVD vaccination requirements, according to multiple published reports.
For example, the University of Tennessee said this month on its website that its board of trustees approved an emergency resolution requiring students, faculty and staff to receive vaccines that are recommended by state or federal health officials. That requirement for now includes only the flu vaccine but “could later include a COVID-19 vaccine,” the university said in the announcement.
The American College Health Association, which represents more than 800 institutions of higher education, according to its website, expects schools “to take a variety of approaches,” Mack wrote in an email.
“Many will likely continue to strongly encourage that their students get vaccinated and some schools, when possible, may provide students with access to the vaccine if they choose to get vaccinated,” she wrote. “Achieving high rates of vaccination among students and others on campus is an important part of a safe reopening.”
Rutgers officials advised students who are not yet 18 years old to get the Pfizer vaccine, which they said is the only one of the three approved vaccines in the U.S. that may be administered to people who are 16 or 17 years old. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, the release said, are approved for those who are at least 18 years old.
The requirement was made amid assurances from the federal government that vaccines will be available for all Americans by the end of May, Rutgers officials said.
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Holloway and other Rutgers officials said in the release that “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.”
The release also said Rutgers has received approval from the state to administer vaccines on campus to faculty, staff and students “once vaccine supplies are available to the university.”
But it added that members of the university community should not wait to be vaccinated on campus, and should sign up for the vaccine on the state’s registration site “to get vaccinated at the earliest opportunity and the first available location.”
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