Rutgers says students need Covid vaccine before campus return

Move seen as popular among students and likely to be replicated elsewhere

March 26, 2021
Source: iStock

Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, will require its students to be immunised against Covid ahead of their return to campus in the autumn, in the first such action by a major US university.

Rutgers said the policy would apply with limited exceptions to the 71,000 students across its three campuses, citing Biden administration assurances of sufficient vaccine supplies.

“Adding Covid-19 vaccination to our student immunisation requirements will help provide a safer and more robust college experience for our students,” Rutgers’ president, Jonathan Holloway, said in announcing the decision.

Rutgers announced its decision on the same day that President Joe Biden increased his nationwide vaccination goal to administering 200 million doses by the end of April.

Mr Biden has offered that same time marker – 100 days into his administration – as his expectation for the point when states should have enough supply to make all adults eligible for vaccinations.

The president has been less clear, however, on when Americans across the college age range can expect to be vaccinated. His education secretary, Miguel Cardona, and other administration officials have spoken almost entirely about their concern for restarting normal academic activity within the context of schools.

Mr Biden’s chief medical adviser, Anthony Fauci, has said only that he holds out hope that older teenagers will be able to receive a coronavirus vaccination by the autumn semester.

“Maybe not the very first day,” Dr Fauci said in an interview earlier this month on CBS, referencing high school students, “but certainly in the early part of the fall for that fall educational term.”

Rutgers nevertheless pinned its decision squarely on the Biden administration. “Assurances from the federal government that vaccines will be available for all Americans by the end of May and assessments by public health experts prompted university leaders to adjust the vaccine requirements for the fall semester,” the university said in its announcement.

The College Crisis Initiative, a research campaign based at Davidson College created to track the response of higher education to the pandemic, suggested that the action by Rutgers might inspire a series of similar moves.

“I think that we’ll see a lot of other institutions follow in Rutgers’ steps over the next few weeks,” said Emily Rounds, co-chief of operations at the College Crisis Initiative.

Universities have additional encouragement in the form of a 1,000-student survey by College Pulse that found most students plan to get the Covid vaccine as soon as they can, and expect their institutions have the right to require it.

Universities nevertheless face some uncertainty in expert advice on whether such a requirement is legal, especially given that Covid vaccines currently are being provided in the US under the legal authorisation of emergency use.

Rutgers, like many institutions, has not specified what share of its classes will be offered in-person. It did say in its announcement, however, that it expected “an expedited return to pre-pandemic normal” this autumn, with “additional face-to-face course offerings and academic experiences”.

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