- Rutgers University says it will require students who enroll next fall to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. Employees are “strongly urged” to do so.
- Officials cited “assurances from the federal government” that vaccines will be widely available by May as part of the reason for the decision.
- It’s the first known institution to mandate the vaccine for students, but public health and legal experts predict more colleges will follow.
Now that Rutgers has issued its mandate, “there’ll be increased pressure on schools to take a stance and to be transparent about what they plan on doing in the fall,” said Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Pasquerella said AAC&U members are in the early stages of thinking about what a vaccine mandate would entail, though she expects a number of them to follow Rutgers’ lead. Many colleges have said they plan to hold fall classes mostly or entirely in person in recent weeks. However, their plans hinge on the public health crisis being under control.
Coronavirus case counts have decreased significantly from their peak this winter, and the Biden administration has pledged the vaccine would be available to all adults by May. But everyone won’t be vaccinated by then-current projections indicate that it’s still months away. And a recent uptick in cases is worrying some public health experts. Whether colleges can require the vaccine is new legal territory. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved three vaccines under an emergency use authorization, which is more limited than a full approval. Rutgers confirmed it would require the vaccine under EUA.
The federal statute authorizing the FDA to issue EUAs suggests that vaccines cannot be mandated, meaning such a requirement could spur a legal challenge. However, a school responsible for students’ health and safety “would have a stronger argument” that the vaccines’ EUA status wouldn’t prevent a mandate, said Robert Field, a law professor at Drexel University in Pennsylvania. And the law doesn’t specifically mention colleges, Dorit Reiss, a law professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law and a member of the Vaccine Working Group on Ethics and Policy, said. While there aren’t many legal challenges involving colleges mandating vaccines, Reiss noted, those that exist suggest institutions “are on solid grounds” doing so.