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Nurse who received 1st COVID vaccine honored with Presidential Medal of Freedom: 'We saved so many more lives'

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On Thursday, President Biden awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to 17 recipients including Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles, former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington, and posthumously to Republican Sen. John McCain and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

Sandra Lindsay, a New York critical care nurse, also received the honor.

“Sandra, as I’ve told you before, if there are any angels in heaven they are all nurses, male and female,” the president said as he introduced Lindsay. “Doctors make you live. Nurses, male and female, make you want to live.”

As director of patient care services in critical care at Northwell Health’s Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, N.Y., Lindsay served on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her hospital was located in one of the nation’s ZIP codes hit hardest by the virus during the first wave of the pandemic.

On Dec. 14, 2020, she also became the first American to receive the COVID-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials. Since then, Lindsay has become a vocal advocate for easing vaccine hesitancy and has raised awareness of the need for mental health support for nurses and all health care workers in general.

In an interview with Yahoo News shortly after receiving her medal, Lindsay said she was honored and “overwhelmed with emotions.”

“I’m excited. I feel like this is a great day for health care workers, for nurses, as I share this honor with all of them here in the United States and all around the world,” she said, speaking from the White House.

President Biden places the Presidential Medal of Freedom around Sandra Lindsay's neck.
President Biden presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Sandra Lindsay during a ceremony at the White House on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Lindsay told Yahoo News that though our country has made significant progress in the battle against COVID-19, there are still many Americans who remain unvaccinated and vulnerable to the virus.

“We still have some people left to get vaccinated, and I’m hoping that they haven’t given up, that they’re still having those conversations that are needed for them to make that decision,” she said. “Unfortunately, we lost over a million people, but we saved so many more lives. Thanks to health care workers who stayed the course, stayed committed and, you know, are still committed to this day.”

Finally, Lindsay, who immigrated to the United States at the age of 18, said receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom was a great honor for the immigrant community as well.

“I came here from Jamaica with a dream of becoming a nurse, never in my wildest dreams I thought that I would be here, but it just goes to show that we, as immigrants, come here, we contribute to this great nation," she said. "We do amazing things, and this, this here I share with my immigrant community. And it just goes to show that anything is possible.”

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