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Mar 2021
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March 30, 2021

Rutgers University Requires COVID-19 Vaccination

In what appears to be the first action of its kind, Rutgers University is requiring its on-campus students to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine. Specifically, students who will be taking on-campus classes for the fall 2021 semester must be vaccinated. At this point faculty and staff are not required to get vaccinated, but they are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated.
 
Rutgers has partially based their decision upon reassurances from the federal government that everyone will have access to COVID-19 vaccinations by the end of May. Rutgers emphasized that widespread vaccinations will help the University return to pre-pandemic normal: in-person classes, campus activities, etc.
 
Notably, Rutgers has also received approval from the state of New Jersey to administer COVID-19 vaccinations once they become available. It is unclear when Rutgers will receive any of the vaccine distribution, but this issue highlights an important best practice: if you require vaccinations, it is important to provide access. However, Rutgers has asked students to sign up to receive the vaccine as soon as possible rather than waiting to receive a vaccine at Rutgers.
 
As expected, even with such a mandate, exceptions are allowed under the policy. Students may request exemptions from vaccination based on medical or religious reasons, and students who are not attending in-person classes will not be required to get vaccinated. Note, any institutions contemplating vaccine requirements should ensure they provide both medical and religious exceptions.
 
Rutgers’ vaccine requirement could cause problems for students who are not yet 18 years of age, as only one of the three COVID-19 vaccines are authorized for individuals under the age of 18. Accordingly, Rutgers encouraged students aged 16-17 to receive the Pfizer vaccine, as it is the only one available to them.
 
It is likely we will see more vaccine requirements as we approach the fall semester, and it will be important to monitor how these vaccine requirements are treated because there is little legal guidance on the ability for higher education institutions to require vaccinations. Two United States Supreme Court cases from the early 20th century upheld vaccine requirements imposed (or authorized) by state and local governments, citing a state's power to govern for the public health and welfare of its citizens. However, whether a higher education institution is able to require vaccines, without explicit authorization from the state, will likely be litigated in the days to come. Lawsuits related to employee vaccine requirements are already turning up in the courts, and we expect to see the same in the higher education area.
 
If you have questions about higher education COVID-19 vaccination requirements, please reach out to Jason Byrne or Lexi Woods of Warner's Higher Education Industry Group.

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