Rutgers University will require students who are enrolling for the 2021 fall semester to show they've received a COVID-19 vaccine. The New Jersey state school says the requirement will help it make "a full return to our pre-pandemic normal" on campus for the next school year.
"Proof of vaccination will be required for all students planning to attend this fall," Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway and other university leaders said Thursday in a statement about the new requirement.
Rutgers is believed to be the first large university in the U.S., and possibly the first college of any size in the country, to initiate a COVID-19 vaccine requirement.
The school is also urging all faculty and staff to get immunized as soon as they can. The message cited President Biden's recent comments in which he said every adult in the U.S. should be able to get at least one vaccine shot by early summer.
"The benefits of COVID-19 vaccination include prevention of serious illness, hospitalization, and death from the virus," the school's leadership said. "Broad immunization is critical to help stop the current pandemic and to protect our University community."
Students will be able to seek an exemption from the COVID-19 vaccination requirement "for medical or religious reasons," Rutgers said. The rule would also not apply to students who are in online programs.
Rutgers already requires new or transferring students to show proof of receiving several vaccines, hoping to prevent on-campus cases of diseases from measles, mumps and rubella to hepatitis B and meningitis.
Speculation that colleges might make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for students and staff began even before the first vaccines received authorization in December.
In a move that could help the vaccination effort, Rutgers said that New Jersey officials recently approved the university's health clinics to administer vaccine shots on campus for faculty, staff and students when vaccine doses become available — which has not yet happened.
A vaccination program will help Rutgers bolster the health and safety of "all members of our community of more than 71,000 students, the cities we are in and the communities we serve throughout New Jersey," said Antonio Calcado, the university's executive vice president and chief operating officer.
Rutgers students can receive any of the three vaccines that are currently authorized for emergency use in the U.S. to satisfy the new rule, the school said. It added that incoming students who are under 18 years old may only be eligible for the Pfizer vaccine.