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1st vaccinated nurse in the U.S. reflects 1 year later


Tomorrow marks one year since the first COVID vaccine was authorized in the U.S. Cameras captured images and video of the first person to get the jab following the authorization. She's a nurse on Long Island who was unwittingly thrust into the limelight. And as NPR's Allison Aubrey reports, what she has done with her notoriety has inspired others.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: When Sandra Lindsay rolled up her sleeve one year ago, she hadn't intended to make history. She'd signed up to get the vaccine with a bunch of colleagues. But it turns out she was the first to be captured getting the shot. And within moments, images began to circle the globe. Her family was shocked to see her on TV.

SANDRA LINDSAY: My phone is buzzing. It's vibrating in my pocket. And I'm getting calls from my mom. Then I'm getting calls also from Jamaica, which is where I'm from. And it was just wild.

AUBREY: She had planned to just go back to work that day, but that didn't happen.

LINDSAY: But it turned out that I was up early the next morning to appear on morning shows. And it's been, you know, a whirlwind since then.

AUBREY: She served as the grand marshal of New York City's Hometown Heroes Parade last summer, and she was honored by President Biden at a White House ceremony for becoming, quote, "a shining example of exemplary civic service." Meanwhile, she completed her doctorate in health sciences, all while holding down her day job as director of nursing for the Critical Care Division at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, which is part of Northwell Health.

But over the past year, Lindsay says she's been most passionate about encouraging others to get vaccinated. And that has meant listening to a whole lot of people who were very hesitant.

LINDSAY: It was the misinformation. The vaccine is a tracker. It's tracking you. You have a chip in your arm. So I think it's important to acknowledge not to shame anyone, but to acknowledge that it's important to have questions and engage in conversations

AUBREY: Along the way, she's learned one secret to changing minds, and it often starts with what happens in people's hearts. So say you have a family member who remains unvaccinated who wants to be included in a holiday gathering, maybe a family dinner. How would she handle that?

LINDSAY: People need to feel love and hug and not shame. Shaming people - you're not vaccinated, you can't come here - is not the answer. But really letting them see the benefits.

AUBREY: So she says, why not try this - talk with the family member one-on-one in a way that is not confrontational. Maybe schedule a walk.

LINDSAY: You know, you say to someone, look, we're having this conversation because I really care about you. I'm concerned. The virus is still taking lives, and I want to be around with you.

AUBREY: If you're the host of the upcoming gathering, ask the unvaccinated friend or relative to put themselves in your shoes.

LINDSAY: Ask him how he would deal with it. Ask him for suggestions.

AUBREY: Flipping the script may prompt some self-reflection. Lindsay says there's not one strategy that works for all. But despite the fact many adults remain unvaccinated, she does think there's been progress. For instance, vaccine hesitancy among Black adults in the U.S. has diminished.

LINDSAY: I believe that we're closer to the finish line than we are to the starting blocks.

AUBREY: And she says she feels grateful for the platform she's been given to do her part.

Allison Aubrey, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF FELBM'S "FUNICULAR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.