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

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.

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.”

Sandra Lindsay, RN, realizes she isn’t a well-known celebrity, pop culture icon, or civil rights champion like others on the list who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom today. She says that’s what makes the honor even sweeter as a New York nurse who was the first American to receive a COVID vaccine outside of a clinical trial. She continues to advocate for vaccination, as well as mental health services for healthcare workers.

“My immediate thought was how significant this is for not only me and my family, but women, women of color, immigrants, Jamaicans, and healthcare workers,” Lindsay told Medscape Medical News about receiving the award. “Personally, I feel it is a great moment for all of the groups I identify with

The environmental impact of climate change poses a significant threat to the health of communities worldwide, putting the foods we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe at risk. For the Swinomish Indian Tribal Communityexternal icon, preserving first foods from the effects of climate change is of particular concern. First foods, also known as traditional foods, include salmon, crabs, clams, wild plants, and other foods that are integral to the tribe’s health, well-being, and history. Hunting, harvesting, and preparing these first foods not only provides nourishment, but also upholds cultural values and traditions through jobs, intergenerational storytelling, and sense of community.

To study the potential effects of climate change on first foods, researchers from the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community undertook an innovative, value-based health assessment that incorporated the tribe’s priorities, values, and needs throughout the research process. Read more about this project in CDC’s Field Notes.

The opioid overdose epidemic in the United States has led to a dramatic increase in infections associated with injection drug use, particularly hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI)external icon in North Carolina is one of many communities experiencing this surge in hepatitis C. After conducting a tribal health assessment in 2018, EBCI made hepatitis C prevention one of the tribe’s top 10 public health priorities.

The rising rate of hepatitis C, coupled with an increase in injection drug use, prompted EBCI health officials to create the Tsalagi Public Health Syringe Services Programexternal icon in 2018. This comprehensive harm reduction initiative aims to decrease the spread of bloodborne infections while also enabling people who inject drugs to access referrals for substance use disorder treatment, medical care, and other community services. Read more about this program in CDC’s Field Notes.

(NIHB) awarded Lisa Pivec, Cherokee Nation’s Senior Director of Public Health, the Area Impact Award for her role in advancing health in Indian Country. NIHB’s 2016 Heroes in Native Health Awards acknowledged individuals and organizations whose work helps improve American Indian and Alaska Native health. NIHB recognized Ms. Pivec during its September 2016 awards ceremony

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