The First Person in U.S. to Get COVID-19 Vaccine Reflects

ItThe COVID-19 vaccine was something I had always supported. I’d been following its development from the very beginning of the pandemic and said, again and again, that I’d happily get vaccinated. We were all in the critical care unit during the initial deadly outbreak of the virus. Our team and our hearts longed to feel some relief from the pain and frustration. While we lived with the fear that the virus would infect us, our team was constantly in danger of losing patients and unable to treat them.

The hope that a COVID vaccine could deliver was what we needed. When my employer, Northwell Health, asked for volunteers to get the shot on day one, I stepped forward to say, “Yes.”

This was a significant milestone in the history pandemic. Within the first year of their availability, vaccines had saved more than 19 million lives. Mine was among those who were there first.

Later, some people would say I’d been used, coerced, even paid. It was difficult to get the COVID-19 vaccine in a non-clinical trial. It is not a mistake. The only mistake was thinking that, after the injection, I’d be going immediately back to work.

But the day was not planned. The day began with a press conference and then a series of interviews followed by speaking engagements. When I said, “Yes,” to the vaccine, I unknowingly opened my eyes to a world of possibilities and advocacy.

For example, risk looks very different now.

COVID-19 is responsible for the deaths of over 6.3 million people in total. Nearly 549 million people are currently diagnosed with COVID-19 as of the writing. That’s where risk and true danger exist–in people eschewing data and the evidence-based advice of medical professionals in favor of anger and falsehoods and fear, often fomented online.

I felt a sense of responsibility after saying yes. I’ve heard so often that COVID-19 has pulled back the curtain on health inequities that I sometimes worry we’ll accept those inequalities as an entrenched fact that we cannot undo. It is a privilege to be able to contribute to public health for underserved areas and communities of color. This is my space; I’m a Black immigrant from Jamaica who came to this country to become a nurse.

For some, it’s uncomfortable to discuss the fact that too many communities of color in the United States lack access to acceptable health and medical care. Let’s discuss it anyway. It is difficult to transform health care deserts in healthy and robust communities that have access to affordable and high-quality healthcare. We may not find a perfect solution but it’s our responsibility to say yes to conversations about how we can remove barriers and inequities in our health care system.


Sandra Lindsay makes greetings to people during a parade in New York honoring critical workers who contributed throughout the COVID-19 epidemic, July 7, 2021.

John Minchillo—AP

I felt empowered when I said yes to the COVID-19 vaccine—it was more than a dose of antibodies. This was a new, hopeful beginning. This moment was a blessing, an opportunity for me to expand and grow my professional goals. I certainly didn’t predict receiving a Presidential Medal of Freedom. However, in some ways it was less of an option than it was seamless. Maybe my having said, “Yes,” will inspire others to do the same.

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