Rutgers University, New Jersey's flagship state institution, said Thursday it will require COVID-19 vaccination for students before they arrive on campus this fall, possibly the first school in the country to announce a vaccine requirement.
The school plans to welcome back all students to its three campuses this fall. The requirement will apply to all residential and commuter students, though there will be limited case-by-case exemptions for religious or medical reasons. Students enrolled in fully remote programs will not be required to be vaccinated.
School officials said they were encouraged to require the vaccine for the fall after President Joe Biden declared earlier this month that all adults should be eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations by the end of May.
New Jersey's vaccination rates so far have also been promising, Tony Calcado, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Rutgers, told ABC News. More than 3.8 million total vaccines have been administered in the state, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The vast majority of students who attend Rutgers are from the state. With over 71,000 students, it's the largest university in New Jersey.
Vaccination will help play a key part in continuing to operate a safe campus and help return operations to a "pre-pandemic normal," officials said.
"They need to get some sense of normalcy back in their lives," Calcado said. "They need to experience the college experience. We really firmly believe that."
The school wanted to announce the requirement now "so that we give all of our students and their families the opportunity to be able to make the right decision for themselves," Calcado said.
School officials believe Rutgers is the first university in the U.S. to require that students receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
"I suspect that others will look at this and do the same thing," Calcado said. "That's just speculation on my part."
Students will be able to submit proof of vaccination in a school portal, where other vaccine records and medical information are already uploaded. Students under the age of 18 will be advised to receive the Pfizer vaccine, as it is approved for those ages 16 and up.
University faculty and staff are not required to get the vaccine, though they have been strongly encouraged to receive it during the rollout.
Rutgers has received approval from the state to administer the vaccine across its campuses as well, though is awaiting sufficient supply to start.
The state is looking to ramp up distribution, as New Jersey has the highest rate of new COVID-19 cases per capita in the country. More contagious variants are likely to be a factor in the spread, health officials said.