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Nurse who received 1st COVID-19 vaccination in US hopes she's an inspiration

The New York City nurse who became the first person in the country to be vaccinated says she hopes to show others they can trust the vaccine, particularly in the Black community.
/ Source: TODAY

The New York City nurse who became the first person in the country to receive the COVID-19 vaccine outside of trials hopes to inspire others to "believe in science" and get vaccinated because "healing is coming."

Sandra Lindsay, 52, who is the director of critical care nursing at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, spoke with MSNBC's Joy Reid Monday night about receiving a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine earlier in the day.

"I felt a huge sense of relief, hope for everyone around the world that healing is coming, that we took a step in the right direction to finally put an end to this COVID-19 pandemic," Lindsay said.

"I know that we still have a long way to go, and so I encourage people to listen to the experts, to continue to social distance, to continue to wear masks, to continue to practice hand hygiene, but it really felt good to get that vaccine in my arm finally after all these months."

The Food and Drug Administration on Friday authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for emergency use in the U.S. The goal is to have nearly 3 million Americans across all 50 states receiving the first of their two shots required of the vaccine by the end of the week.

Lindsay particularly wanted to reassure the African American community that taking the vaccine is safe. Several polls have indicated skepticism by Black Americans when it comes to getting the vaccine, with many referencing the 1930s study at the Tuskegee Institute in which the effects of untreated syphilis were studied in a group of 600 Black men, the majority of whom did not receive urgent treatment to cure the illness.

The Black community has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, with 1.4 times as many cases, 3.7 times as many hospitalizations and 2.8 times as many deaths compared to White Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Indigenous and Latino communities have also been hit hard, with more than 4 times as many hospitalizations, per the CDC.

"I would say to them that I understand that based on the history they have mistrust in the medical system," Lindsay said. "As a nurse, my practice is guided by the science. I believe in science. What you should not trust is COVID-19 because you don’t know how it will affect you.

"So I would say to you that I hope that me taking the vaccine today is an inspiration to you and that you should trust the science. What I have seen, I was just tired of seeing. I’m tired of seeing the hurt, the pain, the suffering and the deaths and that was why it was really, really important for me to take the vaccine and to do my part to put an end to this pandemic."

The ray of hope from Lindsay's televised vaccination, as well as the vaccination of many other health care workers across the country on Monday, comes as the nation continues to set records for the number of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Monday marked a grim milestone of more than 300,000 U.S. deaths from COVID-19 during the pandemic.

The ongoing surge comes at a time when people are making plans for Christmas as health experts urge small gatherings and limited travel to stop the spread of the virus.

"I would say to people if you haven’t, take it from me, from what I have seen and experienced, from what my staff has gone through, please know that this is serious," Lindsay said. "You’ve heard the experts all across the media talking about the seriousness of this pandemic. I urge you to take it seriously, to put off the celebrations this year so that we can all be together next year and celebrate in person."

Lindsay witnessed the initial wave of the virus back in March and April as it ravaged New York City and hopes to avoid a similar situation in the coming weeks.

"It was very dark," she said. "Many days I just had to be numb, to be able to push through and support my staff as they worked tirelessly. They made tremendous sacrifices to be on the front lines, and I just wanted to make sure I was right there with them to support them, to give them my support and give them everything that they needed to carry on this fight and to save as many lives as they could."