When New York intensive care nurse Sandra Lindsay got her first COVID-19 vaccine shot in December, she became a part of history.
Now, the empty vial that contained the first-known doses of an approved COVID-19 vaccine administered in the United States, along with other objects related to the country’s mass vaccination efforts, has been acquired by the Smithsonian Institution for its National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
“The urgent need for effective vaccines in the U.S. was met with unprecedented speed and emergency review and approval,” Anthea Hartig, the museum’s director, said in a statement Tuesday. “These now historic artifacts document not only this remarkable scientific progress but represent the hope offered to millions living through the cascading crises brought on by COVID-19.”
After the Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for a COVID-19 vaccine developed by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, Lindsay became the country’s first person known to receive a dose of an FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 14. Lindsay got the historic shot at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center in the Queens borough of New York City, where she serves as director of critical care services.
Northwell Health, which operates the hospital, has since donated the empty Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine vial as well as Lindsay’s vaccination record card, scrubs and hospital identification badge to the National Museum of American History. The New York state health care provider also donated additional empty vials along with the supplies needed to prepare, inject and track the vaccinations, such as diluent, syringes and vaccination record cards, as well as shipping materials that document the enormous effort required to support vaccine distribution and preserve vaccine potency, such as a specialized container that monitored and maintained the temperature of super-cold doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, according to press releases from the Smithsonian Institution and Northwell Health.
“Dec. 14 was a historic moment for all: the day the very first COVID-19 vaccine was administered in the United States,” Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health, said in a statement Tuesday. “It was our first real sign of hope after so many dark months in the fight against the global pandemic.”
In April 2020, the National Museum of American History formed a “rapid-response collecting task force” to acquire objects that document the scientific and medical events related to the pandemic as well as the effects and responses in the areas of business, work, politics and culture. Due to health and safety protocols, the museum is only able to bring in a limited number of artifacts into the building. More pandemic-related artifacts will be brought in and processed when the museum returns to full operation, according to the Smithsonian Institution.
The donations from Northwell Health join the National Museum of American History’s medicine and science collections that represent nearly all aspects of health and medical practice, including penicillin mold from Alexander Fleming and Jonas Salk’s original polio vaccine.
The museum is working on a signature 3,500-square-foot exhibition called “In Sickness and in Health” that will explore how Americans’ efforts to contain, control and cure illnesses have helped shape the nation’s history. The exhibition will feature artifacts from 19th-century vaccination tools and diagnostic instruments to cardiac implants, imaging technologies and objects from the global smallpox eradication campaign as well as the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Smithsonian Institution.
The acquisition comes as the world marks the somber one-year anniversary of the pandemic on March 11. More than 117 million people around the globe have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and over 2.6 million of them have died, including at least 527,699 in the U.S., according to real-time data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
“Having lived through the devastation and suffering created by the virus, I knew I wanted to be part of the solution to put an end to COVID-19,” Lindsay said in a statement Tuesday. “I hope that when people visit the museum and see all these items that they stop to honor the lives of people who did not make it and remember the loved ones they left behind. I hope it will inspire some discussion and education for future generations.”
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