Nebraska's colleges and universities won't require students to get one of the approved coronavirus vaccines before they return to campus for the fall 2021 semester.
But many schools are encouraging students and faculty to get a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available, saying it would help campus life return to normal.
Last month, Rutgers University announced it would require students receive a vaccine authorized for use in the United States -- those manufactured by Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson -- before coming back to campus.
Students who choose to continue attending Rutgers online won't have to get vaccinated, the public university in New Jersey said, and students will be able to request exemptions for religious or medical reasons.
Other schools, including Cornell University in New York and Nova Southeastern University in Florida, followed suit, but colleges and universities in the Cornhusker State say they have no plans to put a vaccine mandate in place.
Gov. Pete Ricketts earlier this week encouraged Nebraskans to get vaccinated but said he did not support mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for college students or employees.
All of the postsecondary schools surveyed by the Journal Star this week -- including the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the state's largest campus, and the Nebraska State College System -- said they had no plans to require individuals to get vaccinated.
"We do think they are a good idea, and we would encourage people to get vaccinated," UNL spokeswoman Leslie Reed said. "But we don't plan to mandate that."
Students at the University of Nebraska at Omaha are "strongly encouraged to get vaccinated to protect against COVID-19," spokesman Brandon Bartling said, but "at this time, there is no plan to require vaccination for students, faculty or staff."
Nebraska Wesleyan said it was "strongly encouraging" students and employees to get vaccinated when they were able, adding it would be "a game-changer when it comes to returning to a normal, thriving campus."
"We're fortunate that we have the gift of time that will allow us to continue following the data and the science and monitoring what other colleges are doing across the country," spokeswoman Sara Olson said, "so our conversations about vaccine requirements will continue for the next several weeks."
Other private institutions outside of the Capital City, including Hastings College, Doane University, Midland University and Concordia University, said they have no plans to put a vaccine mandate in place.
But those schools, too, are encouraging vaccinations, and Doane, Hastings and Midland hosted vaccine clinics for students on Wednesday.
The South Heartland District Health Department administered a single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot to more than 270 students at Hastings College on Wednesday. In Fremont, more than 300 students at Midland also got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine through a clinic run by the Three Rivers Public Health Department.
"This excludes them from campus testing and quarantine protocols unless they become symptomatic," she said.
Doane will continue to require students and employees wear masks or face coverings "until we are confident that an adequate amount of individuals on campus have been vaccinated," Czerny added.
At Concordia, in Seward, students will be able to provide documentation of their vaccinations to be included in their confidential medical files, spokesman Logan Tuttle said.
"With a vaccination record on file, a student's situation regarding quarantine for exposure may change, based on guidance from the Nebraska Department of Health an Human Services," Tuttle said.
UNL said vaccinated students would be subject to the same advantages outlined by the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department.
Beyond that, Reed said the campus was continuing to hold discussions about what college life might look like in the fall if a significant number of students receive a vaccine.
Now that you’re vaccinated, here's what you can and can’t do
What you can do
CDC guidance contains activity recommendations for fully vaccinated people in private settings and includes:
Visiting with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks.
Visiting with unvaccinated people from one other household indoors without wearing masks or staying 6 feet apart if everyone in the other household is at low risk for severe disease.
Refrain from quarantine and testing if no symptoms of COVID-19 are experienced after contact with someone who has COVID-19.
The CDC has also updated its guidance to say fully vaccinated people can travel within the U.S. without getting tested for the coronavirus or going into quarantine afterward. Read more about that here:
For the most up-to-date guidance from the CDC, go to the CDC's COVID-19 site.
Precautions in public
The CDC says that anyone who is fully vaccinated should continue to take these precautions when in public, when visiting with unvaccinated people from multiple other households, and when around unvaccinated people who are at high risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19:
Wear a well-fitted mask.
Stay at least 6 feet apart from people you do not live with.
Avoid medium and large in-person gatherings.
Get tested if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
Follow guidance issued by individual employers.
Follow CDC and health department travel requirements and recommendations.
10 things to know about vaccine side effects
Here’s a list of 10 things you should know about potential COVID-19 vaccine side effects, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Harvard Medical School:
- The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine and Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine both require two shots in order to get the most protection. You should get the second shot even if you have side effects after the first shot, unless a vaccination provider or your doctor tells you not to get it.
- Side effects from the second injection may be more intense than the ones you experienced after your first shot.
- The most commonly reported symptoms are pain, redness and swelling at the site of the injection. Other common symptoms reported include tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever and nausea.
- You may take acetaminophen, aspirin or antihistamines for any pain and discomfort you may experience after getting vaccinated — as long as you have no medical conditions that prevent you from taking them normally.
- It is not recommended that you take pain relievers before being vaccinated in an effort to prevent side effects. They may interfere with the vaccine’s effectiveness.
- If you have pain at the vaccine’s location, keep the arm active and use a clean, cool, wet washcloth over the site.
- For a fever, drink plenty of fluids and dress lightly to remain as cool as possible.
- The symptoms should improve within two or three days.
- Call the doctor if redness and/or tenderness at the injection site worsen after 24 hours.
- Call your doctor if any other symptoms seem to be worsening or not improving after two to three days
Can I get COVID-19 after being vaccinated?
Like other vaccines, such as the flu shot, the COVID-19 vaccines work by teaching the immune system how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19. It typically takes two weeks after vaccination for the body to build immunity against the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Because of this, it is possible for a person to get COVID-19 before or just after vaccination, and then get sick because the body hasn’t had enough time to develop protection.
Dr. Michael Lindberg, chief medical officer at Monadnock Community Hospital in New Hampshire, said that while possible, it’s “very uncommon” for someone to become infected with COVID-19 after vaccination.
Should I still get tested after getting vaccinated?
If you’ve been vaccinated and are showing symptoms of COVID-19, then yes, you should get tested.
If you have been vaccinated and don’t have symptoms, however, you don’t need to get tested even if you suspect you’ve been exposed to the virus, per guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
When will we hit herd immunity?
Scientists estimate that potentially 75% to 85% of the population needs to be immune to reach herd immunity for COVID-19. Some estimates are higher, at around 90%. As of March 29, 15.8% of the U.S. population had been fully vaccinated, 28.6% had gotten at least one dose.
How long will we have to wear face masks?
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in February that even with increasing vaccinations, it’s “possible” Americans could still be wearing face masks and coverings in 2022.
Also contributing to this report: The News & Observer (N.C.), The Keene Sentinel (N.H.), Dayton Daily News (Ohio) and The Staten Island Advance (N.Y.)