Nurses, a WWII Vet, and Housekeepers: Meet the People Who Got the First COVID Vaccines in the US

These people made history in what will be the nation’s largest-ever vaccination campaign.
December 15, 2020, 10:50pm
World War II veteran Margaret Klessens, 96, was reportedly the first VA patient in the U.S. to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
World War II veteran Margaret Klessens, 96, was reportedly the first VA patient in the U.S. to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo from Twitter account of  

VA Bedford Healthcare System in Massachusetts)

A critical care nurse in Queens, a 96-year-old World War II veteran in Massachusetts, and a handful of hospital housekeepers across the country made history on Monday. 

Advertisement

They were among some of the first people to receive the coronavirus vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech outside a clinical trial, beginning what will become the nation’s largest-ever vaccination campaign, according to the Associated Press. Health officials are now racing to inoculate as many people as possible in their bid to beat back the virus that’s already infected 16.3 million Americans and killed about 300,000 people.

While the Pfizer and BioNTech shot only received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday, federal and state health officials were already preparing to distribute and administer the shots. And, on Monday, select hospitals across the country offered their first doses—largely to eager employees, since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that medical workers and residents of long-term facilities be first in line to receive the vaccine. 

Advertisement

One of the facilities to receive doses Monday—the VA Bedford Healthcare System in Massachusetts—wrote on Twitter that the first employee to be vaccinated was Andrew Miller, a housekeeper in environmental management service. The Bedford VA also said that World War II veteran Margaret Klessens, a 96-year-old, was the “first VA patient nationwide to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.” 


Workers at other health care facilities were excited to share their experiences, too. 

"The atmosphere in the hospital feels like a Cardinals baseball game," said Aamina Akhtar, an infectious disease specialist and the chief medical officer at Mercy Hospital South in St. Louis, on Monday, according to KMOV-TV, a local CBS affiliate. Housekeepers at the hospital were also set to receive the vaccine in addition to health care workers, KMOV reported. 

"People in this room will remember where they were when the first COVID-19 vaccine happened," Akhtar, who was the first to receive a vaccine at her hospital, said, according to KMOV-TV.

The vaccine’s rollout offered a ray of light after months of anxiety and death across the country, although there’s still plenty of questions about how many people will be willing to receive the shot right away and states’ capacity to carry out such an ambitious effort equitably. 

 Staff at Boston Medical Center danced after the hospital received its first set of doses Monday. (Employee vaccinations there will start Wednesday, according to Boston.com.

Health care workers at WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, applauded and cheered as white boxes containing 975 doses were wheeled into their facility Tuesday, according to the Lebanon Daily News. 

Advertisement

Tina Schubert, a respiratory therapist at UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin, became emotional after she and others at her hospital were vaccinated Monday, saying in a video shared on UW Health’s Twitter account that she wanted “to inspire people, especially the patients that look like me.”

“It’s safe,” Schubert said of the vaccine.


More than eight in 10 Americans report they would receive the vaccine at some point, according to an ABC News/Ipsos poll released Monday, but only 40% of respondents said they’d receive it as soon as it became available. 

Vaccine skepticism has been especially prevalent among Black Americans — a community that’s been subjected to medical and scientific mistreatment, including the infamous Tuskegee study from 1932-1972, in which researchers secretly studied the progression of syphilis and withheld treatment to the hundreds of Black men involved. 

Sandra Lindsay, the critical care nurse in Queens who received the vaccine Monday, mentioned the Tuskegee study in an interview with the New York Times. She told the newspaper that, as a Black woman, she also wanted to inspire people who looked like her, especially if they were skeptical of the shot. 

“It is rooted in science, I trust science, and the alternative and what I have seen and experienced is far worse,” Lindsay told the New York Times. “So it’s important that everyone pulls together to take the vaccine, not only to protect themselves but also to protect everyone they will come into contact with.”

She said she felt fine after receiving the shot, too, calling Monday’s rollout a “significant step in eradicating this pandemic once and for all, bending that curve and keeping it down.”

"I have no fear," Lindsay told CNN in a separate interview