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A volunteer from UK administers the COVID-19 vaccine to a recipient on UK's first day operating its vaccine clinic out of centralized Kroger Field location. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff.

On opening day of COVID-19 vaccinations at UK's centralized clinic, dozens of Lexington residents signed up to receive their shots in what many say was an easy and fast process.

The clinic started officially at noon, with roughly a hundred cars in the parking lot. Vaccine recipients - prioritized according to CDC guidelines - were able to enter the vaccination room quickly, moving through checkpoints and the designated queue with little wait.

"Super fast, super easy, super organized and quick," said Cassie Rowland, a first grade teacher in Fayette County Public Schools.

"It's been really hard teaching elementary students online so I'm ready to get back to normal, so this is exciting," Rowland said.

She said she was relieved to get the vaccine both for her job and because she's pregnant, and doesn't want to worry about COVID-19 in the hospital.

K - 12 employees like Roland were a target demographic for the clinic, which is partnering with FCPS to vaccinate their staff.

According to their website, FCPS has 2,692 support staff and 2,928 full-time teachers, all of whom can access the vaccine through UK.

Cindy Easton, a teacher at a private school, said her school has been lucky to have low case numbers and supportive teachers.

"It's not education as we know it, but it's doing the best we can in a difficult situation," Easton said.

She arrived early for her appointment and said UK was "really good" about getting the information out. Teachers were sent an email on Friday with the sign-up request.

"It's the road back to normal. It's scary because it got approved so quick," Easton said, but it's "what we need to do."

Many recipients on the first day of the clinic were those in Phase 1B - those older than 70 or those with underlying health conditions.

Recipients were overwhelmingly excited to get the vaccine. Kathy Kamber, a recently retired healthcare worker, said the vaccine was a relief after a stressful and challenging year.

"I feel very blessed to get the vaccine today," said Kamber, who described the shot as painless. She knew why she was getting the vaccine - but that's not the case for all recipients.

UK freshman Nathan Eapen said he had no idea why he was selected to receive the vaccine. He's not a frontline worker, doesn't have health conditions and isn't in one of UK's health colleges, which the university has said will be prioritized in getting the vaccine.

Still, he accepted the invitation and got his vaccine.

"I think we have to get it now," Eapen said, talking about society's expectations. UK has said they will not require the vaccine at this time.

Inside the vaccination room, UK workers were focused on efficiency, shuffling recipients from one station to the next. A team of pharmacists prepared doses for administering and those who had already gotten their shot offered thanks to UK for setting up the clinic and making the process so easy.

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Volunteers from UK Healthcare and health colleges prepare doses of COVID-19 vaccines for administration during the first day of UK's vaccination site at Kroger Field on Jan. 19, 2021. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Leslie Farmer, a teacher at Lexington Catholic, said she thinks UK is doing a wonderful job with the clinic.

"I just feel blessed that I got to be one of the first ones," Farmer said. She described her in-person experience at school this year as very scary.

"We all just want to be as safe and as healthy as possible, but also that know that mental health is part of it all too and it's been a hard year for all of us," Farmer said. So the vaccine offers her hope that "we're finally heading in the right direction."

Several other teachers expressed the difficulty and frustration of the last school year. FCPS has moved its in-person date back several times. A limited number of its schools (and private schools) are in-person or have in-person elements

"Doing it all online has been really hard," said Ryan Davis, a high school teacher. "It's been hard to connect with students and keep them motivated and to stay motivated ourselves as educators."

Davis said the vaccination process was "chill" and was excited by the quick turnaround, since he made his request on Friday, Jan. 14.

He said he hopes vaccines mean they can get back in-person before the end of the school year.

"I teach seniors, so it'd be really sad to never actually get to see them," Farmer added.

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Recipients of the COVID-19 wait in socially distanced chairs after receiving their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine during UK's clinic on Jan. 19, 2021. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Following their shot, recipients were asked to wait 15 minutes inside the room. 

Dani and Marc Bradley said including that wait, it took only 25 minutes to get their shot.

"I didn't feel a thing," Marc Bradley said. The pair was offered the shot because he is a UK employee in IT and she is on UK's insurance.

Marc said they have locked down pretty hard since the beginning; Dani made 300 masks for them and community members, and they've been lucky to stay safe.

"He's able to work from home, our experience has been very positive," Dani Bradley said. "We didn't go through some of the hardships other families did."

The Bradleys said they were "overjoyed" and "grateful" to receive their vaccines, especially since it means the country is moving forward.

As the afternoon rolled on those with appointments continued to arrive. Vaccine recipients will not receive a reminder email, according to the UK workers helping at the site, but should fill out the request form again and make sure to mark that this is their second dose. People who receive the vaccine today should fill out the form the week of Feb. 8.

Sarah Michels contributed reporting.