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Two years after receiving the first COVID vaccination, Sandra Lindsay says there’s still work to do

Sandra Lindsay, a nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, is inoculated with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, Dec. 14, 2020.
Mark Lennihan
Sandra Lindsay, a nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, is inoculated with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, Dec. 14, 2020.

Wednesday marks two years since Sandra Lindsay, a nurse at Northwell Health, made history as the first person to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Two years later, Lindsay has become Northwell Health’s vice president of public health advocacy — a role in which she fights for vaccine access and health education.

WSHU: Tell me about what it was like to be the first person to get the COVID vaccine.

SL: At the point when the vaccine got approved for emergency use authorization, I was more than ready to get vaccinated. I did my research. I was fearful of what was going on on the frontlines. I was fearful, not just for me, but my loved ones, my team. And so as soon as I heard that the vaccine was being developed, I read everything that I could about it. I asked questions. I spoke with my trusted physicians that have been caring for me over the years. And so at that point, I was ready when I got the shot. First of all, I couldn't believe that we had gotten this done in such a short period of time. So I was very grateful for that. And it just felt like a heavy load was lifted off my shoulders. Because I've been working, I was working at that point, under such pressure, feeling fear, tense, just overwhelmed by everything that was happening. So I was excited, grateful, relieved, hopeful.

WSHU: What do you think the healthcare system has learned about patient education and health misinformation over the last two years?

SL: Here at Northwell, we have taken care of over 320,000 patients, we've administered more than three quarters of a million vaccinations, 750,000. And conducted over 3 million diagnostic tests for the virus. We've been very busy. And we will continue to be. And during that time, we learned a lot about how important it is to have equitable care, access, inclusion, education and awareness.

Because we saw that, when people are not educated, or not kept informed, then that's when people start developing their own theories about what is going on, and just put it out into the universe. And with the internet now, everything just spreads so far and wide, and it's hard to control. So that's why we've made tremendous strides during the pandemic by partnering with our communities. And we continue to do that, especially communities that were heavily hit.

We’re partnering with our leaders in those communities to improve access, improve awareness, improve communication, dispel misinformation, and just work on revitalization efforts.

WSHU: How has your life changed in the last two years? Would you do it again?

SL: Oh, absolutely. It still remains the best decision that I've ever made in my life. It's been busy. I have gotten tremendous opportunities to be able to use my voice and lend my voice and my influence to improve the lives of others.

Just yesterday, I was in the store doing my Christmas shopping, and people say they recognize the eyes, because I’m wearing my mask. I'm out of uniform, but people recognize the eyes and are just grateful. This woman was just so grateful. She said I just want to say thank you for everything that you've done for being courageous and for continuing to speak about it. Educating people, encouraging people, dispelling misinformation. So absolutely, I would do it all over and over and over again.

WSHU: Is there anything else you want people to know?

SL: I just want to say, with the new recommendations that we see in the news right now, I know that you know, we want to get back together. It's been a long time, almost three years. And I know that many of us are going through mask fatigue and vaccine fatigue, but the virus is still very much with us, in addition to influenza and RSV.

COVID is not just a common cold or a respiratory infection. It is 10 times as likely to cause severe complications and even death. So it should still be taken very seriously. And if people haven't gotten vaccinated already, perhaps they want to rethink that decision. And also if they haven't gotten boosted yet, now is the time to get boosted because COVID is not done with us yet.

Molly is a reporter covering Connecticut. She also produces Long Story Short, a podcast exploring public policy issues across Connecticut.