Will the state mandate vaccinations for returning college students?

Rutgers University became the first school in the nation last week to require proof of vaccinations to return to in-person classes and campus life in the fall. So far, no other school in New Jersey has adopted a similar policy.

Is it possible it could become a statewide mandate? Its doubtful. When asked about the Rutgers policy, Gov. Phil Murphy said he was "impressed" by the decision to require vaccinations but acknowledged that his administration was currently reviewing the requirement to determine if there were any "unintended consequences or equity issues."

The policy may face a legal and legislative challenges. Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso, R-Monmouth, says she will sponsor legislation preventing any school that takes state funding from mandating a vaccine.

While Murphy and Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said the more people vaccinated "the better off we will be," they hesitated when asked about mandating vaccines for college students. Murphy said he is "in a position of mandating that other colleges and universities have to do it."

Under the Rutgers policy, students will have to prove they have received any COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in the United States in order to attend in-person classes in the fall. The policy does include an exemption for medical or religious reasons.

Mandating vaccinations has been a controversial subject, especially for a vaccine that is still viewed as experimental and approved only for emergency use by U.S. regulators.

Sen. Joe Vitale, D-Middlesex, the chairman of the state Senate Health Committee, is already on record saying he supports adding the COVID vaccine to the list of mandatory vaccinations needed to attend public school. No formal proposal has been made to do that.

During our recent Town Hall program, "A Year With COVID," Richard Bozza, executive director at New Jersey Association of School Administrators, told me there is virtually no chance the vaccination becomes mandatory for students or teachers when in-person classes resume in the fall.

However, most New Jersey employers can require their workers to be vaccinated. The Murphy administration released guidelines last week allowing employers to require proof of vaccination as a condition of entering the workplace. The state Health Department did include some key exemptions, including:

  • The employee has a disability that would prevent them from getting the vaccine.
  • The employee's doctor advised them not to get the vaccine while pregnant or breast-feeding
  • The employee has sincerely held religious beliefs, practices or observances that would prevent them from being inoculated.

In most cases, an employer can request documentation of any medical exemption, and if produced, is required to provide a reasonable accommodation.

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