Sandra Lindsay, First to Get COVID Vaccine in U.S., Still Pushing for Shots 1 Year Later

The New York nurse widely considered to be the first person in the U.S. to receive the COVID-19 vaccine is still campaigning for Americans to receive the shot more than a year after she was featured in the widely-televised moment.

Though Sandra Lindsay just "happened to go first" when officials at Northwell Health's Long Island Jewish Medical Center asked for volunteers, she has made good use out of her platform as an accidental vaccine celebrity.

As the director of critical care nursing at the Queens hospital, Lindsay was able to witness the impacts of COVID-19 firsthand.

"I just felt broken, defeated, just tired and burned out,'' Lindsay said. "Witnessing the overwhelming loss of lives, loss of livelihoods.''

So when the hospital asked for worker volunteers to get the shot on Dec. 14, Lindsay raised her hand and went first out of the others who did the same. She was then hailed as the first American to get vaccinated outside a clinical trial.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration had only granted emergency use authorization for the vaccines mere days before shipments of the shots began arriving at hospitals to inoculate health care workers at the front lines of the pandemic.

A year after receiving her first shot at the beginning of the nationwide vaccination campaign, Lindsay has continued encouraging other Americans to do the same, speaking at events in both the U.S. and Jamaica, where she is from.

"I encourage people to speak to experts who can answer their questions, to access trusted science. I let them know that it's OK to ask questions," Lindsay said.

New York Nurse
The New York nurse widely considered to be the first person in the U.S. to receive the COVID-19 vaccine is still campaigning for Americans to receive the shot more than a year after she was featured in the widely-televised moment. Sandra Lindsay, left, a nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, is inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccine by Dr. Michelle Chester, December 14, 2020 in the Queens borough of New York City. Mark Lennihan/Pool/Getty Images

Lindsay has been recognized by President Biden as an "Outstanding American by Choice," a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services program that recognizes citizens who have been naturalized.

With the arrival of the omicron variant and new surges around the country, Lindsay's still addressing fears and misinformation. Some mistakenly believe the shots aren't needed if they eat well and exercise, Lindsay said. Others say the vaccines are a way for the government to track people or an experiment on Black people.

She said she acknowledges the mistrust in communities of color, which stems from past history. But she reassures people by noting she did her own research before getting her shot, and that there are safeguards in place.

"We've had millions and millions of people around the world get vaccinated without any significant adverse event,'' she said.

She also stresses that getting a shot will help protect others.

Some worries, like fear of needles, can be easier to address, she said.

After children became eligible for the vaccines, Lindsay offered comfort to a 9-year-old girl getting her shot at the hospital. She had to decline the girl's request to vaccinate her since she's not a pediatric nurse but offered to hold her hand — and did.

Later, Lindsay got a letter from the girl saying how much the gesture had meant.

Looking back, Lindsay said she's grateful for the role she's been able to play: "It's very rewarding to hear people come up to me and say, 'Thank you very much. You've inspired me to get vaccinated'."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Sandra Lindsay
As the director of critical care nursing at the Queens hospital, Sanda Lindsay was able to witness the impacts of COVID-19 firsthand. Lindsay bumps elbows with hospital publicist Joseph Kemp after she is inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccine at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, on December 14, 2020 in the Queens borough of New York. Mark Lennihan/POOL/AFP via Getty Images