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Stunned by attention, nurse says people now want to get to the 'front of the line'

Frontline health workers at Mount Sinai South Nassau, Stony Brook University Hospital and Nassau University Medical Center received doses of the coronavirus vaccine.  Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa-Loarca, Raychel Brightman and Chris Ware

One day after Sandra Lindsay took the COVID-19 vaccination shot seen around the world, the Long Island Jewish Medical Center critical care nurse said she was feeling fine, other than a slight bruising pain.

Lindsay, of Port Washington, said Tuesday she was stunned by the attention she received as the first person in New York, and possibly the United States, to receive the vaccine — while not part of a clinical trial.

"I’ve gotten so many emails and so many texts from people who said that they [had been] hesitating" about taking the vaccine, Lindsay told Newsday in a phone interview. "Now everybody wants to get to the front of the line."

The vaccine, produced by Pfizer-BioNTech, has been touted as 95% effective against a disease that has killed more than 300,000 in the United States. It requires two doses given about 21 days apart.

New York State will receive enough doses in the first shipment to fully vaccinate 170,000 people, including health care workers and nursing home staff and residents, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has said.

Additional vaccine could be available from Moderna if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration grants the pharmaceutical company's emergency use authorization request later this week. Moderna said its vaccine is about 94.5% effective. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was granted emergency use authorization Friday.

On Long Island, hospitals on Tuesday continued to receive their first shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, including Stony Brook University Hospital, Mount Sinai South Nassau in Oceanside, NYU Langone Hospital-Long Island in Mineola, Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, Northwell's Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead and Plainview Hospital.

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"It should help us start turning the corner," said Michael Fener, executive director at Plainview Hospital. Fener said the hospital was to begin administering the vaccine Tuesday, and "ramp up" Wednesday.

Stony Brook University Hospital said it expected to vaccinate 250 hospital workers who face the highest risk of exposure, such as those who work in the emergency room, by the end of the day Tuesday.

Dr. Nicholas Palamidessi, an emergency medicine physician at Peconic Bay, was among the first at the Riverhead hospital to get vaccinated Tuesday.

"It's definitely one of the more historic events I've been involved in," he said. "They watched me for about 15 minutes to make sure I didn't have a reaction. But I feel fine."

Stephanie Cal, a surgical ICU nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, was vaccinated on Monday afternoon. She said that other than a sore arm, she has had no side effects.

"Truthfully, every morning I wake up wondering if I have a fever or feel warm," she said. "I've been doing that for six months, because we've been taking care of COVID patients. I feel totally fine today."

Theresa Clarke, a nurse manager/nurse practitioner at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside, said she was proud to be one of the first staffers to receive the vaccine on Tuesday.

"I have family members and friends who still feel like COVID is not real," said Clarke, who lives in Lynbrook. "I tell them numbers don’t lie. I explain the symptoms … how we had patients who have lost four or five family members all at once."

Getting the vaccine was a "ray of sunshine" after unimaginable tragedy and loss, South Nassau hospital nurse Tracy Thorn said.

"The spring was a really, really dark time in the emergency room," said Thorn, assistant director of nursing in the emergency department. "Within a span of three hours, there were six people that died of COVID. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever witnessed in my life."

Lindsay, who oversees Long Island Jewish’s ICUs, said she did not experience muscle pain or fever, two of the vaccine’s possible side effects. She said she had a slight bruised feeling on the injection site of her left arm.

"But on a scale of one to 10, that’s a one," Lindsay said. Lindsay said she saw too much "pain, death and darkness" while working the hospital floor during the pandemic.

She also suffered two personal losses, an uncle in the Bronx and an aunt from Rockland County to COVID-19.

Lindsay’s story got the attention of the media in her homeland of Jamaica, where she lived before coming to the United States more than 30 years ago.

"They said my story was timely because a poll with some of the Jamaica nurses showed they didn’t want the vaccine," she said. "They wanted the politicians to take it first."

Lindsay said since she was outspoken in her desire to take the vaccine, officials at Long Island Jewish approached her Sunday about taking the first vaccine in a public event. She didn’t have to think twice about it.

She is hopeful her actions have especially resonated in minority communities, where people have expressed concerns about the safety of the vaccine.

"I think I have made an impact on some people," Lindsay said. "I hope it will continue."

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