NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey (WPVI) -- Rutgers University announced Thursday that, with limited exceptions, it will require COVID-19 vaccines for all on-campus students who are enrolled for the 2021 fall semester.
In a letter to the Rutgers community, university leaders said that 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 them to adjust the vaccine requirements for the fall semester.
"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 may request an exemption from vaccination for medical or religious reasons, and those enrolled in fully remote online degree programs or participating in online-only continuing education programs will not be required to be vaccinated.
Most students we talked to say if it means a safer learning experience, they are all in favor of getting vaccinated.
"That way no one is going to get sick. We are packed in here like sardines when you go to class. You need to have immunity," said student Lori Knox.
"I think whatever makes it safer for us to come back and, I think, if that what they think is the safest then so be it," said student, Alexander Kousoulis.
"Since the start of the pandemic, we have said that the safety of the Rutgers community is a shared responsibility," said Antonio Calcado, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Rutgers. "An effective vaccination program is a continuation of Rutgers' commitment to health and safety for all members of our community of more than 71,000 students, the cities we are in and the communities we serve throughout New Jersey."
As vaccine supplies are made available to the wider population, faculty and staff are strongly urged to receive the vaccine, Calcado said.
"The COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be safe and effective in preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death," said Dr. Brian Strom, chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences and executive vice president for health affairs at Rutgers. "Vaccination is key to stopping the current pandemic and to the return of campus instruction and activities closer to what we were accustomed to before the pandemic drastically changed life at Rutgers."
Students enrolling at Rutgers who are under age 18 will be advised to receive the Pfizer vaccine, the only one of three vaccines currently approved in the United States that may be administered to 16- and 17-year-olds.
Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are approved for those 18 years and older.
Holloway, Calcado, and Prabhas Moghe, executive vice president for academic affairs, noted 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.
No other college or university in the Philadelphia region has announced plans to require vaccinations for on-campus students. However, some students at Temple University don't think it's a bad idea.
"I think you should be vaccinated to come back in the fall," said student Sean Bennett.
"If they get it rolling out and widely available and easy to get, I'd agree for the most post," said student Alex Meals.
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.
More information will be forthcoming on vaccination clinic sites. However, faculty, staff and students are urged to not wait to sign up for vaccines at a Rutgers site.
"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," Dr. Strom said.