For Lincoln and Lancaster County residents, daily life is in the early stages of returning to normal thanks to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout across the state. 

So far, more than 289,118 vaccine doses have been given to Nebraska residents during the vaccine rollout, according to the Nebraska Vaccination Dashboard.

In January, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services announced the Phase 1 rollout would be broken into three parts. These phases would target the most vulnerable demographics in Nebraska’s population, with the vaccine becoming more widely available in Nebraska’s Phase 2 rollout.

According to the dashboard, 68,082 Nebraska residents have completed their vaccinations as of Monday, Feb. 15. 

Phase 1A of vaccinations began in December and continued until the start of January when Phase 1B began. Currently, Phase 1B is set to last through the end of April, with Phase 2 beginning in May. 

Phase 2 will open the vaccination to the general public.

Nebraska’s vaccination timeline from DHHS indicates that Phase 1A primarily targeted hospital workers and long-term care facility residents and staff. Phase 1B opens the vaccine to those 65 and older in addition to first responders, educators and adults with preexisting conditions. 

For medical students, faculty and staff at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, receiving the vaccine has already begun to pick up steam.

Taylor Wilson, a senior media relations coordinator with Nebraska Medicine, said a separate three-tiered system has been developed to prioritize medical students, faculty and staff with Nebraska Medicine and the University of Nebraska Medical Center. 

All students and staff are placed into one of three levels. Clinical students and staff are placed in Level 1 or Level 2 based on their risk of being exposed to the virus through their job function.

The remaining didactic students and staff, who don’t have face-to-face interactions, fall into Level 3, where scheduling for those members of the Nebraska Medicine community is underway. For all three levels, a majority of both of the doses will be administered before February is over.

Level 1 clinical students and staff began receiving their vaccines on Dec. 15.

Kelsey Richters, a licensed physical therapist at the University Health Center, received her first dose of the vaccine with the Level 1 group. Richters received the first dose of the Moderna vaccine in early January and is scheduled to receive her second dose this week. 

In order to keep the vaccine rollout progressing smoothly, those receiving the vaccine pick a time and date that works best for their schedule. This helps to avoid wait times at testing centers and keeps the internal registration of those who have received their doses in order.

James Bunstock, an administrative assistant at UNMC received his first dose with the Level 1 group on Jan. 29. He said it was easy to register for the first dose, and the vaccination process was quick.

After choosing a time and date to receive the vaccine, Nebraska Medicine sent periodic text and email reminders in the days ahead of the scheduled first dose, Bunstock said. Due to the carefully controlled flow of those eligible to receive the vaccine, the first dose was administered in just a few minutes.

According to a study from Pew Research Center published in early December, 54% of adults in the United States know someone who has either been hospitalized or died due to complications from COVID-19. 

Despite this, 62% of those surveyed also stated they would feel uncomfortable being among the first to receive the vaccine, citing possible vaccine side effects as a leading cause for hesitation.

Dr. Mark Rupp, chief of infectious diseases at Nebraska Medicine, said it’s likely that those receiving the vaccine may feel fatigue, headaches and pain at the site of injection, but that is a completely normal reaction to the vaccine. 

“These reactions indicate that your immune system is responding and creating immunity,” Rupp said. 

Rupp also said it’s normal for these side effects to last between a few hours and a few days.

For Richters, only one side effect came from receiving her first dose of the vaccine — “a sense of hope.”

Both Bunstock and Richters said that morale at UNMC is higher as more students and staff are receiving their initial doses of the vaccine.

“I feel like the big feeling is a sense of relief,” Richters said. “We’re all very thankful that we were able to get the vaccine so soon.”