WASHINGTON (WABC) -- President Joe Biden presented the prestigious Medal of Freedom to the New York nurse who was the first person in the U.S. to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Sandra Lindsay was thrust into the international spotlight when she was vaccinated on live television on Dec.14, 2020.
"I feel so honored, so grateful to be receiving this prestigious honor," Lindsay said.
Lindsay, a critical-care nurse who directs patient care services at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, used her instant fame to become an advocate for the vaccine and for health care workers.
She received the nation's highest civilian honor, along with 16 other people, including actor Denzel Washington, gymnast Simone Biles and the late John McCain, the Arizona Republican with whom Biden served in the U.S. Senate.
"Just me being in the spotlight, representing nurses and health care workers I hope that people begin to see what we need as a healthcare community," Lindsay said.
Last year, Lindsay told Eyewitness News that easing fears and concerns surrounding the vaccine remains her true passion.
"I can't imagine where we would be if we didn't have this powerful tool to protect us," she said. "So encourage more and more people to protect themselves, and this is not just about you, but your loved ones and the communities in which you live."
She spoke of how the attention changed her life.
"Right after the shot, it was interviews and invitations to appear on different shows and platforms," she said. "I had the opportunity to be recognized at the White House by President Biden, went home to Jamaica, all that stuff this year, and met with the prime minister."
She was recognized again when Biden presents the medals at the White House next week.
Biden's honors list, which the White House shared first with the Associated Press, included both living and deceased honorees from the worlds of Hollywood, sports, politics, the military, academia, and civil rights and social justice advocacy.
"Here I am, a nurse, a immigrant from Jamaica that is going to be in history listed among these powerhouses," Lindsay said. "It's really an honor."
The other 13 medal recipients are:
- Sister Simone Campbell. Campbell is a member of the Sister of Social Service and a former executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice organization. She is an advocate for economic justice, overhauling the U.S. immigration system and health care policy.
- Julieta Garcia. A former president of the University of Texas at Brownsville, Garcia was the first Latina to become a college president, the White House said. She was named one of the nation's best college presidents by Time magazine.
- Gabrielle Giffords. A former U.S. House member from Arizona, the Democrat founded Giffords, an organization dedicated to ending gun violence. She was shot in the head in January 2011 during a constituent event in Tucson and was gravely wounded.
- Fred Gray. Gray was one of the first Black members of the Alabama Legislature after Reconstruction. He was a prominent civil rights attorney who represented Rosa Parks, the NAACP and Martin Luther King Jr.
- Steve Jobs. Jobs was the co-founder, chief executive and chair of Apple Inc. He died in 2011.
- Father Alexander Karloutsos. Karloutsos is the assistant to Archbishop Demetrios of America. The White House said Karloutsos has counseled several U.S. presidents.
- Khizr Khan. An immigrant from Pakistan, Khan's Army officer son was killed in Iraq. Khan gained national prominence, and became a target of Donald Trump's wrath, after speaking at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
- Diane Nash. A founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Nash organized some of the most important 20th-century civil rights campaigns and worked with King.
- Megan Rapinoe. The Olympic gold medalist and two-time Women's World Cup soccer champion captains the OL Reign in the National Women's Soccer League. She is a prominent advocate for gender pay equality, racial justice and LGBTQI+ rights who has appeared at Biden's White House.
Rapinoe, who was at training camp in Denver when the White House called to inform her of the honor, thought she was getting a prank or robocall when she saw her phone say "White House," U.S. Soccer said in a statement. She showed her phone to a teammate, who encouraged her to answer the call.
- Alan Simpson. The retired U.S. senator from Wyoming served with Biden and has been a prominent advocate for campaign finance reform, responsible governance and marriage equality.
- Richard Trumka. Trumka had been president of the 12.5 million-member AFL-CIO for more than a decade at the time of his August 2021 death. He was a past president of the United Mine Workers.
- Wilma Vaught. A brigadier general, Vaught is one of the most decorated women in U.S. military history, breaking gender barriers as she has risen through the ranks. When Vaught retired in 1985, she was one of only seven female generals in the Armed Forces.
- Raúl Yzaguirre. A civil rights advocate, Yzaguirre was president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza for 30 years. He served as U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic under Obama.
Biden himself is a medal recipient. President Barack Obama honored Biden's public service as a longtime U.S. senator and vice president by awarding him a Presidential Medal of Freedom in January 2017, a week before they left office.
The honorees who received medals from Biden "have overcome significant obstacles to achieve impressive accomplishments in the arts and sciences, dedicated their lives to advocating for the most vulnerable among us, and acted with bravery to drive change in their communities, and across the world, while blazing trails for generations to come," the White House said.
The honor is reserved for people who have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values or security of the United States, world peace or other significant societal public or private endeavors, the White House said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.