Sandra Lindsay was the first American to be vaccinated for COVID-19 exactly one year ago. The 53-year old critical care nurse from Long Island, New York felt grateful as she stood before the flashing cameras in order to get her shot. Everybody involved in the creation of the vaccineThis made her shot possible. The shot was also a step towards meeting her grandson safely. “When I was able to take off my mask and to hug him, that little moment just meant the world to me,” she says.
Many other people have now followed the lead and about 60% of all eligible Americans are fully vaccinated. Lindsay and other advocates for vaccination have played a part in some of this. “Inaction is not an option, because [the pandemic] is not just going to magically go away,” she says. “It requires us—and it requires everybody—to do their part.”
In addition to treating COVID-19 patients at Northwell Health’s Long Island Jewish Medical Center, Lindsay has spent much of the last year promoting vaccination in television and in-person appearances in the U.S. and Jamaica, where she was born, hoping to encourage hesitant people to receive the shots. She’s well aware that the reason her televised vaccination was so powerful for many people wasn’t just that she was first, but also that she’s a Black immigrant woman working in health care. “Historically, Black people, for the sake of medicine and medical advancement, have endured a lot of harm and unethical practices,” she says. “My vaccination alone on national TV does not erase all of that harm and pain. For me, that represented just the beginning of, hopefully, a path to building trust between communities of color and the medical profession.” In July, she was honored at the White House with an “Outstanding American by Choice” award from President Joe Biden.
Lindsay has seen the power of such representation over the past year. People have stopped her on the street and in hospital hallways to ask for impromptu “consultations” about the vaccine or to express their gratitude that she got the shot publicly. She visited Jamaica’s Embassy and was approached by a woman who said that Lindsay getting vaccinated made her whole family reconsider their decision to book vaccine appointments.
Some reactions have not been positive. On social media, some people have called Lindsay “the devil” who would be responsible for adverse vaccine events. Others attacked her for publicly receiving the vaccine as a Black woman, calling her a “guinea pig” or falsely accusing her of being paid for the shot. Lindsay said that after two years spent fighting COVID-19 and exchanging information about vaccines and the virus, Lindsay sometimes gets tired of the constant stream of patients. This is because so many people are still unvaccinated. Many nurses wonder, she says, “Why is this happening? Why aren’t we taking advantage of protecting ourselves? Why are we putting ourselves through this?”
Lindsay believes that Lindsay’s positive interactions inspire her to continue fighting for international health equity. “I think that it definitely inspired a lot of people, and for that I would do it over and over again,” says Lindsay.