NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — A high-ranking Rutgers executive says students who decline to take the COVID-19 vaccine should consider taking a gap year or transferring to another school.
Antonio Calcado, the executive vice president for strategic planning and operations and chief operating officer, said there are five exemptions the state university is making for students returning in the fall.
Speaking last week during the regular COVID-19 health briefing hosted by Brian Strom, the chancellor of biomedical and health sciences and the executive vice president for health affairs, Calcado said students may request an exemption from vaccination for medical or religious reasons. Students enrolled in fully remote online degree programs and individuals participating in online-only continuing education programs will not be required to be vaccinated.
“We do not have an exemption if you do not want to take the vaccine,” Calcado said. “We do understand - and I don’t want to sound callous here – that your decision may be that maybe a gap year is something better, that you go into this year as a student or potentially and we hate to say this again, I don’t want to be callous about this and I don’t want to be disrespectful, but it may be that Rutgers at that point is not for you and a transfer is what would be appropriate.”
Calcado said he was aware that his comments “will offend people,” but creating a safe environment for the school’s 71,000 students is the school’s priority.
According to Strom, there were 51 positives after 4,466 faculty members and 5,225 students that were tested for COVID-19 between April 4-10. That is a .005 positivity rate. The statewide positivity rate as of April 10 was 11.04, according to Strom.
Rutgers announced last month that it will require all students enrolling for the fall semester to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, after receiving assurances from the federal government that vaccines will be available for all Americans by the end of May.
Rutgers officials announced April 6 that the university’s application to be a point of dispensing of COVID-19 vaccines has been approved by the state. Once Rutgers’ supply allotment has been determined and supplied by the state, it will offer vaccines to Rutgers faculty, staff and students on the Camden, Newark and New Brunswick campuses.
Rutgers has developed an online portal for faculty, staff and students to complete a questionnaire to register their interest in receiving the vaccine from the university.
During last week’s briefing with Strom, when Calcado fielded questions submitted by faculty and students, he addressed the reason Rutgers students are being required to get vaccinated while staff and faculty members are not.
Calcado said that students “are highly mobile” and the school is not trying to stop them from congregating.
“We needed to find another way to make them safe,” he said. “So, when we looked at our testing data and running 10,000 tests as we just showed a week basically and 70% - our students test higher in the positivity rate 70% more than our faculty and staff – we knew that that’s one area we need to pay a lot of attention to. Our faculty and staff, they’re already getting vaccinated for the most part. They’re taking different precautions. Our students aren’t looking at these same precautions. So, the decision was made that we want to keep them safe, and the best way to keep them safe was for us to put really all our efforts into paying attention to that cohort and bringing back our students in a safe manner.”