Sandra Lindsay, a Northwell Health nurse and Port Washington resident, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Thursday.
Lindsay was the first American to receive the FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 14, 2020, at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens.
At the White House ceremony, President Joe Biden praised her efforts throughout the pandemic.
“Sandra, as I told you before, if there are any angels in heaven, they are all nurses,” he said. “Sandra’s vaccination card, hospital scrubs and badge are part of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s exhibit on COVID-19 and today she receives our nation’s highest civilian honor.”
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the greatest honor a citizen can receive. The president gives the medal to those whose accomplishments uphold the prosperity and principles of the United States.
“At 18 years old, Sandra Lindsay immigrated to Queens from Jamaica to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse,” said Biden. “During the height of the pandemic, she poured her heart into helping patients fight for their lives and to keep her fellow nurses safe. And when the time came, she was the first American to become fully vaccinated outside of clinical trials.”
She worked at a grocery store and did babysitting to pay the bills while attending classes at Manhattan Community College to earn her first nursing degree. In the end, Lindsay got a nursing degree in 1994, and three years later she earned U.S. citizenship.
Along with Lindsay, 16 other people received this accolade, including Simone Biles and Megan Rapinoe. She is the first Jamaican-American who was born in Jamaica to get the medal.
“During the pandemic, while working with my fellow nurses and colleagues on the frontlines, we waited for that sliver of hope – a vaccine – to help keep us going,” said Lindsay. “It was an honor to raise my hand and volunteer to take the vaccine.”
Additionally, she has fought to refute medical myths and fight for global access to quality healthcare.
“I am beyond thankful to President Biden for recognizing that momentous day and my continued efforts to end vaccine hesitancy and promote health care for everyone, no matter where you live, who you are, or the color of your skin,” she said.
Lindsay has now met with President Biden twice on trips to the White House. Last July, he presented her with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Outstanding Americans by Choice recognition in a ceremony.
Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health, said she embodies courage.
“That small brave act of getting the vaccine has rippled across the world and continues to leave a lasting impact,” he said. “We are proud of Sandra and what she represents to our Northwell family and beyond.”