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The First Nurse to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine to Be Honored at Smithsonian


Nurse Sandra Lindsay made history last year when she became the first person in the U.S. to get the FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine. For her role, President Joe Biden recently announced that her scrubs, hospital badge, and vaccination card will go on display at the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. 

Not a bad trade-off for rolling up your sleeve.

Honored for Making History

Lindsay, who immigrated to the U.S. from Jamaica when she was 18 years old, received her first shot of the Pfizer vaccine on December 14th. She works as the director of nursing for critical care at a hospital on Long Island.

“I feel like healing is coming,” she said at the time. “I hope this marks the beginning to the end of a very painful time in our history.”

For her, getting the shot was the ultimate form of relief after a turbulent year.

“I feel like I’ve completed kind of the marathon, I’ve closed the loop. I know we’re not out of the woods yet, we don’t have that herd immunity yet, but the burden feels definitely much lighter today,” she said after getting both shots.

In addition to be honored at the Smithsonian, she also received the “Outstanding American by Choice” award from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is reserved for non-native citizens who make “significant contributions to our country,” said President Biden during a ceremony at the White House, while adding Lindsay “represented the very best of us all.”

“She earned a bachelor’s degree. Then a master’s degree. Then a doctorate degree. And her citizenship. And now she’s director of nursing for critical care at a hospital on Long Island,” Biden said.

“I came to this country for the opportunities — not only for myself but to be able to help others. As a nurse, I do everything to care for the sickest patients and lead by example,” Lindsay said of her experience.

“More than 24 years after becoming a naturalized citizen, I could never have imagined where I am today — at the White House receiving high honors from the president. It’s truly a privilege to be a part of this great nation, and I will continue to lead and help those in need,” she added.

Her employers were also quick to sing Lindsay’s praises for everything she’s done for her patients during the pandemic.

“Sandra is the epitome of the power immigrants hold in writing this great nation’s history and on behalf of the entire Northwell Health family, we are proud to support her,” said Northwell’s President and CEO, Michael Dowling.

Since getting vaccinated, “she has been a vocal advocate on the need for vaccinations, swaying those who might be hesitant to take the shot and help end the pandemic,” Dowling added.

Going First

Being the first provider to get the shot carries plenty of responsibility. While the FDA had approved the shot for emergency use, Lindsay sent a clear message to providers all over the country that the vaccine is both safe and effective, and that taking it is better than leaving yourself exposed to the virus.

“During the height of the pandemic, she poured her heart and soul into her work to help patients fight for their lives and to keep her fellow nurses safe,” Biden said during the event. “With a grandson at home — prematurely — she did what she had to do. She kept her distance and kept him safe. He is safe, but she lost an aunt and an uncle to the virus.”

The president also noted that Lindsay became the first American to get fully vaccinated outside of clinical trials. “She can now hug her grandson,” he said. “She’s out there making sure her patients and folks in her community are getting vaccinated so they can get back to their lives and their loved ones.”

Lindsay’s work essentials will be included in the Smithsonian’s National Museum American history exhibit on COVID-19. The museum is currently open by appointment only.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also announced that Lindsay would be serving as the grand marshal of the city’s Hometown Heroes parade, scheduled for next week.

A big shout out to Lindsay for being brave enough to become the first person to get their shot outside of clinical trials. Over six months later, 327 million doses of the vaccine have been administered with around 47.9% of the population fully vaccinated.

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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