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How Nurse Sandra Lindsay Is Helping Defeat the Pandemic One Shot at a Time

Nurse Sandra Lindsay made history as the first person in the U.S. to receive the COVID vaccine.

Photo: CARE

Photo: CARE

Sandra Lindsay made history as the first person in the United States to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Now she is sharing her experience in the hopes of encouraging others to get the vaccine and defeat the pandemic here at home and around the world.

On December 14, 2020, Sandra Lindsay rolled up her sleeve and became the first person in the United States to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Since then, Lindsay, a critical care nurse at Northwell Health in New York, has been a vocal advocate for vaccine education and acceptance to help fight the virus.

On the eve of Juneteenth 2021, six months after receiving her vaccine, CARE spoke with Lindsay about vaccine equity, the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on communities of color, and why she felt a responsibility to get vaccinated when she did.

“I wanted to instill public confidence that the vaccine is safe and effective, particularly among the black and brown communities that have been mistrustful of government and of science,” Lindsay said.

While COVID-19 affects everyone, certain communities are disproportionately experiencing its impacts. Women and people of color, particularly black and indigenous women, face a greater risk of exposure to infection and greater vulnerability to the harmful health, social and economic impacts of COVID-19. Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) also represent 40% of essential workers in the U.S., yet comprise only about 23% of the national population.

As one of those essential workers serving her community, Lindsay knew how important it was to get the vaccine when she had the chance. “The pandemic has shown how important it is for people to see us — the care workers — as professionals taking good care of each other and ourselves and that includes getting vaccinated.”

of global health leaders are women.

As a child growing up in Jamaica, where she lived before immigrating to the U.S. at 18, Lindsay was surrounded by strong role models, including women in health care, who inspired her to speak her mind on the issues she cared about and eventually pursue a career in nursing. Today, women make up 70% of the world’s frontline health workers, risking their lives to get vaccines, services, and supplies to the most underserviced and at-risk populations. Yet their work is often unpaid and unrecognized — only 25% of global health leaders are women.

“Women health care workers have incredible insight about what is working, what patients are experiencing, and where there are gaps in the system that leaders need to pivot quickly to fill,” Lindsay said. “Women have a tremendous role to play in leadership positions and making sure voices are heard.”

Lindsay added that the nation needs real community involvement at every level, including faith-based leaders and informal leaders who can rally people to get vaccinated and continue the process of reopening society.

No one is safe from the virus until everyone is safe and the U.S. government has a key leadership role to play in fast and fair vaccine delivery and getting shots into arms, both here in the U.S. and worldwide. For Lindsay, it’s important to be thoughtful, “never shameful,” when trying to encourage communities to get vaccinated. “The first step is to listen to their concerns,” she added.

Hurdles to vaccinating the world are not limited to procuring vaccine doses or delivering them to the countries that need them. Many countries lack the infrastructure or health systems to store vaccines once they receive them and get shots into arms in the hardest-to-reach communities. Lindsay has seen vaccine inequity play out in the U.S. but also back home in Jamaica, where she said people are eager to get vaccinated and feel normal again.

Though it is easy to stay comfortable in our own bubbles, “there is an entire world out there that we really need to consider,” Lindsay said.

As deadly surges in COVID-19 cases continue worldwide, the U.S. faces a critical choice: Invest at least $15 billion over the next three years to ensure vaccines reach those most in need worldwide or risk millions of more lives lost and almost $700 billion in continued economic damage.

Investments today from the U.S. government can help ensure fast and fair vaccine distribution, address the secondary impacts of COVID, including increased food insecurity and gender-based violence, and support frontline and community health workers who actually administer the doses and other health services.

Every day, Lindsay continues to demonstrate the extraordinary courage and commitment needed to defeat this pandemic and is reminding people to look beyond their own communities when making the choice whether to get vaccinated or not.

“In some ways the pandemic has been isolating,” Lindsay said. “In other ways, it is the ultimate reminder that the world is just one big community and viruses do not see borders on a map.”

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