Rutgers University will require students returning to campus this fall to prove they’ve been vaccinated against Covid-19, becoming one of the first institutions in the U.S. to mandate the immunizations.
Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway announced the change Thursday, saying in a statement the university plans to update its immunization requirements for students on campus to include the Covid-19 vaccine.
Students will have to prove they’ve been fully vaccinated with any of the three shots currently cleared for use in the U.S. — Pfizer’s, Moderna’s or Johnson & Johnson’s — though students who are under 18 years old will only be eligible for the Pfizer shot. Pfizer’s is the only vaccine authorized by the FDA for use in people as young as 16.
Students who are fully enrolled in online courses without access to on-campus facilities will be exempt from getting vaccinated, according to the statement, as well as those with medical or religious reasons that prohibit immunization.
Many universities across the U.S., following varied reopening plans, have struggled to return students to their campuses during the pandemic. Some institutions have been forced to crack down on off-campus gatherings and events that have caused outbreaks in the surrounding community.
“From the onset of the pandemic, the safety of the broader Rutgers community has been our shared responsibility. This has never been more true,” Holloway said in the statement. “The importance of an effective vaccination program to make our community safer for all cannot be overstated.”
Focused on information
Dr. Preeti Malani, chief health officer and professor of medicine and infectious disease at the University of Michigan, told CNBC that so far, Rutgers was one of the first universities she’s aware of that will require Covid-19 vaccinations this fall.
Malani has worked closely with health officials at other Big 10 universities, including Rutgers, to navigate campus reopenings amid the pandemic. At the moment, the University of Michigan doesn’t have plans to require the shots among returning students this fall, she said.
“We’re really focused on getting good information to students, trying to help them get signed up. We don’t have a way to vaccinate people on campus, and that’s because there are a lot of other people that need to be vaccinated right now,” Malani told CNBC in a phone interview.
“We are hopeful that maybe as supplies become bigger than demand, we might be able to do some sorts of vaccination events that focus on students,” she said.
Universities require other vaccines for students living on campus, such as meningitis, hepatitis and measles, which could likely extend to Covid-19, experts say. However, keeping track of who’s been vaccinated on campus can be difficult, Malani said, especially at institutions with many out-of-state and international students.
“The [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] may offer guidance and say, ‘You shouldn’t live in a residence hall unless you’re vaccinated,’ for example. I think right now it’s a lot of people’s opinions on this,” Malani said.
“What we do know is that the news on vaccination keeps getting better and better, and that it’s not just a way to protect individuals but a way to protect the entire community,” she said.
Return to normal
Requiring students to get vaccinated against the disease will allow Rutgers to resume a wide range of activities and will allow for an “expedited return to pre-pandemic normal,” the university said in its statement Thursday. Widespread vaccination means the university can offer more face-to-face instruction, as well as expanded dining and recreation options.
The decision was partly based on President Joe Biden’s estimation that every American will have access to a vaccine by the end of May.
A number of states have said they will open vaccine eligibility to all adults in the coming weeks, ahead of Biden’s May 1 deadline for states to broaden eligibility to all adult residents.
New Jersey officials have approved the New Brunswick-based university to begin administering vaccines to students and faculty once more doses are available, the statement said. However, the university “urges all members of its community currently eligible to receive a vaccine not to wait” and to get vaccinated “as soon as possible” since the state hasn’t provided the supply to the university yet.