Rutgers Mandates Vaccine for Fall Students

Evamarie Augustine

Rutgers University, The State University of New Jersey is New Jersey's largest public college. The school is spread out across the city of New Brunswick with several distinct campuses. For the 2019 school year, over 50,000 students were registered at the D1 school.

Johnson Hall, New Brunswick. Image by 1778011 from Pixabay

With the onset of COVID-19 in the spring of 2020, Rutgers closed for in-person learning for the fall 2020 semester and most other colleges and universities. The school stayed virtual for the spring 2021 semester. Many students and parents were anxiously awaiting what would happen for the fall 2021 semester.

Rutgers President Jonathan Hollaway shocked all by announcing that any student would need to be vaccinated to attend—the first school in the country to mandate the vaccine.

Reactions among parents and students were both positive and negative. Further complicating the matter was that the school was not mandating the vaccine for professors and administration—only for students. Instead, professors and office staff are being strongly encouraged to take the vaccine.

The school spoke of a return to a pre-pandemic normal on campuses, with a return of on-campus events and activities as well as increased in-person course offerings. Rutgers has received approval from the State of New Jersey to administer vaccines on campus to faculty, staff, and students once vaccine supplies are available to the university.

Rutgers has been leading the way in coronavirus research, developing the first SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus test that will allow people to collect their own saliva at home and send it to a lab for results. The test, developed by RUCDR Infinite Biologics, received FDA approval in May 2020.

But can the school force students to get the vaccine? The school will allow exemptions for medical or religious reasons. But it faces a battle. While a public institution may require immunizations, the three vaccines have only received emergency authorization from the FDA—in other words, they are not formally approved. This is an issue that has not been tested in the courts, so the outcome is unknown, particularly since the long-term effects of the vaccine remain unknown.

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Image by Bruce Emmerling from Pixabay.

Following Rutgers' announcement, state Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso (R), who represents New Jersey's 13th Legislative district, said she plans to introduce legislation against the state school. DiMaso stated that a school that takes state funding cannot mandate a vaccine.

Democratic Governor Murphy said he was pleased with Rutgers' decision but would say if he thought other schools in New Jersey should require the vaccine for admittance.

Following Rutgers' announcement, several other schools have announced that students will be required to be vaccinated to return to campus in the fall. This included Cornell in New York and Roger Williams College in Rhode Island.

In Florida, private Nova Southeastern University, with campuses across the state, had initially announced that it would require all students to be vaccinated. However, Governor Ron DeSantis issued an order banning "vaccine passports." The school then announced it would comply with the governor's order, and withdrew its announcement.

As the vaccine is still experimental, do schools have the right to mandate an untested vaccine? Other colleges and universities are already following Rutgers' lead—will high schools and primary schools be next?

Opponents of the vaccine claim the mandate infringes on personal choice, and it especially targets lower-income students who have no other choice but to attend the state university. On the opposite side are those who claim Rutgers is putting safety first and that this will provide a faster way to return to "normal."

Rutgers has three regional campuses: Rutgers–Camden, Rutgers–Newark, and Rutgers–New Brunswick. Rutgers–New Brunswick Campus is considered the main campus and comprises five smaller campuses (Busch, College Avenue, Cook, Douglass, and Livingston) that are located within the cities of New Brunswick and Piscataway.

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