Meanwhile on Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy said he was “very impressed” with Rutgers’ decision, but held off on requiring other New Jersey colleges and universities to follow.
“I have asked for a bill to be drawn up that any school that takes state funding cannot mandate a vaccine,” said state Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso (R), who represents New Jersey’s 13th Legislative district. “It’s not that I don’t believe in the vaccine; I got the vaccine. I just don’t believe we should mandate people to get it, especially kids.”
Rutgers announced the requirement last Thursday: The school will require all students who wish to return to either in-person classes or live in dorms this September prove they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus. This also applies to students who live off campus, if they want to come back to in-person class.
Rutgers appears to be the first college or university in the nation to make such a requirement of its students. This is also a course reversal, as Rutgers previously said in January it would not be requiring its students get the vaccine.
Rutgers students may request an exemption for medical or religious reasons.
DiMaso, who is running for re-election this year, said her Twitter feed “blew up Friday” as news spread of Rutgers’ requirement.
“A lot of people are not happy about it. The vaccine is still technically experimental; we don’t know the long-term effects, especially for people who are 18- and 19 years old,” she said. DiMaso added that she herself got COVID last March and she also got the Moderna two shots this spring. She works as a volunteer first aid responder in Holmdel, where she lives.
“The point is it was my choice. My daughter, 27, is in her medical residency and she chose to get the vaccine. My 25-year-old son, who also had COVID, does not want to get the vaccine. And we said that’s OK. It is a personal choice. It should be a decision made between you and your physician and whatever you decide is right for you. Not the government deciding.”
DiMaso said she is also concerned the bill unfairly puts requirements on poorer students, for whom Rutgers is either their first or only choice as an in-state university.
“It’s an awful place to put a student in. Some are just scratching enough money together to go to an in-state college,” she said. “I know one young woman who wants to go to Rutgers. She wants to get the vaccine, but her parents don’t want her to get it. They are nervous. I’m not trying to second-guess the vaccine, but those are legitimate concerns some people have. So now what does she do?”
When asked if Rutgers had a comment on the proposed bill, a Rutgers spokeswoman reiterated that students can request an exemption for medical or religious reasons, and students who wish to remain fully online do not have to be vaccinated.
DiMaso said she asked Friday that the bill start being drafted. She will be its prime sponsor in the Assembly and if it gets enough votes there, it will then head to the New Jersey Senate. She floated the names of several New Jersey lawmakers she thinks will sign on — Union County Assemblyman Jamel Holley (Democrat) and Morris County state Senator Mike Doherty (Republican). Neither of them immediately got back to Patch when asked if they would support the bill.
From there it would head to Gov. Murphy’s desk, but DiMaso said she wasn’t very confident the governor would sign it. Murphy has previously expressed support for vaccine passports, something DiMaso said she also disagrees with.
“No, I don’t think he will (sign it),” she told Patch. “But I hope the bill forces some kind of discussion where Rutgers reverses their policy. If they are willing to reverse their decision, then I don’t need legislation.”
A spokesman for Murphy said the governor’s office does not comment on pending legislation.
“I was very impressed by Rutgers’ decision under (Rutgers) President Holloway,” said Gov. Murphy on Monday, when asked by a reporter about the issue. “We just have to think it through to make sure there are no unintended consequences, no equity issues. So I’m not sure I’m in the position of mandating it that other colleges or universities have to do it. I think the more people who are vaccinated, the better off we will be.”
Rutgers students, not teachers, required to be vaccinated
DiMaso said she also takes issue with the fact that Rutgers is requiring its students, and not its teachers or staff to be vaccinated. This March, a group of teachers sued the Los Angeles school district to prevent the district from requiring them to take the vaccine, on the grounds that the COVID vaccines have only received emergency-use authorization from the Food & Drug Administration, and not full FDA approval. The lawsuit was filed March 17 and you can read it here: https://secureservercdn.net/72…
“It makes absolutely no sense to me to force the students and not force the teachers,” said DiMaso. “The teachers, many of them in their 60s and 70s, are at a higher risk than the students.”
Many of Rutgers’ professors are in a union and Dory Devlin, a spokeswoman for the school, said she “did not have a response” when Patch asked if Rutgers is able to require unionized staff members take the COVID vaccine, or any vaccine.
Calls and emails to several Rutgers union leaders were not returned.
According to Devlin, Rutgers students — instead of staff — were selected for mandated vaccination because “the Rutgers data clearly reflects that students have a 60 percent to 70 percent higher positivity rate than faculty and staff,” said Devlin. “This is to be expected since they are highly mobile and highly interactive. Given that students are easily identified as a cohort creating transmission and infection, we chose to concentrate on them. Further, this is the community that goes back to their extended families and communities, and we believe that by concentrating on them we will make New Jersey safer.”
As Patch reported on March 19, DiMaso is running in the primary this June without the backing of the Monmouth County Republican Party. She will face off against fellow Republicans Gerry Scharfenberger and Vicky Flynn for the Republican nomination to represent NJ 13, a traditionally red-leaning part of New Jersey.
The 13th legislative district includes Aberdeen, Atlantic Highlands, Fair Haven, Hazlet, Highlands, Holmdel, Keansburg, Keyport, Little Silver, Marlboro, Middletown, Monmouth Beach, Oceanport, Sea Bright, Rumson and Union Beach.
Related: Rutgers Will Require COVID-19 Vaccines For All Students (March 25)
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