A small portion — about 11 percent — have received one or two shots of the vaccine, leaving the nation in a medical and cultural interregnum. Some of those with only one shot are in a precarious limbo, in states snarled over second-dose distribution.

Byzantine rules setting up tiers of the eligible mean most will be holding their collective breath for months, as another set moves gingerly toward the restoration of their lives on the other side of the divide.

Debates over masks, indoor eating, testing availability and school reopenings all now center on a single axis: the lagging rollout of the vaccine.

It is the alchemy of “unrelenting waves of exhaustion, fear, hope, uncertainty and pandemic fatigue,” said Lindsey Leininger, a health policy researcher and clinical professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. “I stay focused on the lotus mud metaphor and think about how gosh-darned beautiful we are all going to be when we come out the other side.”