WASHINGTON — The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has acquired the vial that contained the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine administered in the United States as part of its plans to document the global pandemic and “this extraordinary period we were going through.”
The acquisition also includes other materials related to that first vaccine dose — among them special shipping equipment and the medical scrubs and ID badge of the New York City nurse who was America’s first coronavirus vaccine recipient.
“We wanted objects that would tell the full story,” said Anthea M. Hartig, the museum’s director. “Everything from the scrubs to the freezer unit that shipped the vaccines.”
“Our broadest mandate was to document this extraordinary period we were going through” said Diane Wendt, a curator in the museum’s medicine and science department. “We particularly had our eye on vaccine development from the start.”
The first dose of vaccine in the United States was given on Dec. 14, 2020, by Northwell Health, a New York health provider, to Sandra Lindsay, an intensive care nurse. The donation from Northwell includes the original Pfizer vials as well as the specialized shipping container, about the size of a hotel room fridge, that would deliver the super-cold Pfizer doses packed in dry ice.
The museum also obtained first-batch vials of the alternate vaccine created by Moderna, and Lindsay donated her hospital ID badge and her medical scrubs.
“Our curators were particularly interested in the process and the packaging,” museum spokeswoman Melinda Machado said. “The story of the vaccine is not just what goes in your arm.”
The new COVID-19 materials will join the museum’s extensive medical collection. This includes one of the first batches of the polio vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk in 1955 and specialized syringes and vaccination cards from that era, as well as an authentic iron lung machine, multiple artificial hearts and an extensive selection documenting the fight against AIDS.
The collection also now includes the personal blue and pink plastic COVID-19 model donated by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the longtime immunologist and federal health official who has become synonymous with the fight against the virus.
Museum officials say they aren’t sure whether the coronavirus-related materials will be on display immediately when the museum reopens later this year after being closed because of the pandemic. But they are planning to use them as part of a larger display on the history of medicine that is expected to debut next year.