New York nurse among first Americans vaccinated for COVID-19 receives Presidential Medal of Freedom

Sandra Lindsay, a critical care nurse in New York and the first American vaccinated for COVID-19 outside of clinical trials, received a Presidential Medal of Freedom last week.

Lindsay volunteered for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 14, 2020, at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, New York.

As director of critical care nursing at the hospital, Lindsay led her team on the front lines treating patients infected with COVID-19 in a state that was especially hard-hit with the virus.

Lindsay is confident in the effectiveness of vaccines, and works to spread awareness and inform those who remain skeptical. In an interview with the New York Times following her vaccination, she said she hoped to appeal to people of color who were skeptical due to a history of medical experimentation on Black Americans.

“That was the goal,” Lindsay said. “Not to be the first one to take the vaccine, but to inspire people who look like me, who are skeptical in general about taking vaccines.”

An NPR poll in March 2021 found that vaccine hesitancy had decreased among Black Americans since the previous year, with 73% of Black respondents planning to or having received a COVID-19 vaccination, 3% more than the 70% of white respondents.

Lindsay is a Jamaican immigrant, and was previously awarded an Outstanding Americans by Choice recognition by President Joe Biden, making this her second presidential recognition.

“If there are any angels in heaven,” Biden said at the White House ceremony last Thursday, “they’re all nurses.” In his introduction of Lindsay, Biden later added that while doctors “let you live,” nurses “make you want to live.”

Northwell Health, the healthcare provider Lindsay works for, donated her vaccination card, scrubs and the vials she was vaccinated from to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in March 2021.

Jose Alonso is currently majoring in digital journalism at Florida International University. Aside from journalism, he enjoys creative writing, literature, and history.