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March 26, 2021

Rutgers among first universities in the nation to require COVID-19 vaccine

Students will have to show proof of immunization before moving into dorms or attending classes on the school's three campuses

Education Colleges
Rutgers COVID vaccine Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Rutgers University is requiring students to get a coronavirus vaccine before the fall 2021 semester, a policy that will enable it to offer more in-person classes, activities and events.

Rutgers University will require students to get a COVID-19 vaccine before coming to campus next fall, a decision based on an expectation that shots will be widely available this summer. 

The requirement will expedite the university's return to a "pre-pandemic normal," including more in-person classes, events and activities, officials said. Rutgers is among the first university's to mandate vaccines. 

Rutgers made the decision after the federal government pledged that vaccines will be widely available by the end of May. Officials also consulted with public health officials. 

"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.

Students will have to show "proof of vaccination" before moving into dorms or attending in-person classes, according to the university. The university enrolls more than 70,000 students. 

The requirement will apply to all three campuses, located in Camden, New Brunswick and Newark. The public research university did not extend the requirement to faculty members, though officials strongly encouraged them to get inoculated.

Students and faculty will still have to practice social distancing, use face coverings and participate in university-wide COVID-19 testing even after getting the vaccine. Hybrid classes are expected to stick around through the next academic year to limit crowding. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said vaccines must be voluntary and people must be able to turn down the shot that was granted emergency use authorization if they want to.

Rutgers said students who are enrolled in online-only programs will not have to get vaccinated. In-person students can request an exemption for medical or religious reasons.

"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.

New Jersey state officials approved Rutgers to administer the vaccine on campus to faculty, staff and students once the shots are available. The university community already can sign up for vaccine appointments, officials said.

Students who are not yet 18 are advised to get the Pfizer vaccine — the only one that has been authorized for 16- and 17-year-olds. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are only authorized for adults 18 and older. 

"We urge all members of our community to pre-register for the vaccine on the state COVID-19 website to get vaccinated at the earliest opportunity and the first available location," said Brian Strom, chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences and executive vice president for health affairs at Rutgers.

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