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Dec. 14 Marks One Year Since LIer Became First in U.S. Vaccinated for Covid

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Sandra Lindsay, a critical care nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, received the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine from Michelle Chester, Northwell’s director of employee health services on Dec. 14. (Mark Lennihan/Pool via Reuters)

On Dec. 14, 2020, Port Washington’s Sandra Lindsay, the director of critical care at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, became the first person in the United States to receive a Covid-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials.

That day ignited a new promise of hope for people in the U.S. and around the globe that an end to the pandemic would be near. Before he resigned amid sexual harassment allegations on Aug. 24, ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo repeatedly held news conferences at state vaccination sites, calling the vaccine “the weapon to win the war on Covid.”

“That shot signaled the turning of a tide and new hope in returning to normal,” said Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling. “As our communities continue to grapple with the reality of Covid-19, we at Northwell Health – and people like Sandra and her colleagues – are doing their best to protect our communities and show through example that the only way we can truly come out of this is together.”

In the year since, millions of people have been inoculated with their first, second, and third doses of the Covid vaccine. On Long Island, about 2.1 million people are fully vaccinated against the virus, according to New York State’s vaccine tracker.

“I do believe we are closer to the finish line than we are to the starting block,” Lindsay says. “But as long as we don’t get our vaccine rates up, we will continue to live in fear of these variants. We have to turn that around and get more people vaccinated to end this pandemic.”

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Students get vaccinated at Mount Sinai South Nassau and Town of Hempstead’s vaxmobile. (Front Row L to R) Kareron Blount, Kellan Torreblanca, Christopher Sepp, Anabelle Torres, Wade Torreblanca, Christian Torres. (Back Row L to R) Mason Blount, Jaxon Blount, Brendan Sepp, Bryan Sepp. (Background L to R) Amber Vitale, NP, and Dr. Twana Jackson. (Courtesy Mount Sinai South Nassau)

From the get-go, Long Island’s vaccination rates were among the highest in the state. Today, 97.8% of adults in Nassau and 89.6% in Suffolk have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine.

There have been several efforts across Long Island to make sure that all populations have access to the shot. Notably, Town of Hempstead and Mount Sinai South Nassau, the Oceanside hospital, teamed up to launch the “vaxmobile” in April, which has administered nearly 10,000 shots to Long Island residents. The vehicle, staffed with registered nurses, visits schools, senior centers, and other hyperlocal sites, which gives those with mobility issues, time constraints, or other conflicts, an opportunity to get vaccinated.

“We learned that bringing the vaccine directly to communities and offering the vaccine right where people live, work, and go to school, removing those barriers, really has made a difference,” said Joe Calderone, Mount Sinai South Nassau’s senior vice president for communications and development.

Health officials agree, however, there is still work to be done in terms of vaccinations, including making sure children ages 5 to 11 get the vaccine and that people get their booster shots.

Lindsay has spent the past year advocating for the shot on several different platforms nationwide, as well as in her homeland of Jamaica, where she visited in August and met Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness. She was also honored by President Joe Biden, partnered with the Ad Council to promote the vaccine, and has appeared on several panels to talk about getting vaccinated.

Though she never imagined the notoriety she’d receive, or that she’d be the first in the country, when she first agreed to be in a group of nurses first to be vaccinated against Covid at Northwell, she called the experience of holding this place in history “a privilege and an honor.” 

“It’s been a long, busy year,” she said. “It’s been like a whirlwind as I’ve become some sort of a public figure, as well as still working as director of critical care at LIJ and still seeing Covid patients come in.

“I know I inspired more people to get it,” she added. “It’s going to take more than me and we have some more work to do.”

For more coronavirus coverage, visit longislandpress.com/coronavirus.

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