Homelessness to the frontlines: Duke worker playing a vital role in the COVID-19 vaccination process

Thursday, December 17, 2020
Homeless to the frontlines: Duke worker giving vaccines shares story
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Duke Health plans to vaccinate up to 3,000 frontline workers during phase one of their plan. The shots are voluntary.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Duke Heath vaccinated 60 essential staff on Wednesday, with a goal of ramping up COVID-19 inoculations significantly in the coming weeks.

Ke'Yona Barton is on the frontlines at Duke giving those shots.

"I have enjoyed it. I'm a person who loves stories so I love to sit down and talk to everyone I encounter. Who they are and where they come from and how has the pandemic affected them," said Barton.

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The pandemic impacted her as well.

In May, Barton became a first generation college graduate, earning her masters in Biomedical Sciences at Duke University, but she also became homeless.

She said the absence of money and a job forced her, her mother and sisters to sleep in a hotel and stay with family.

But in August, Duke called with a job opportunity. A few weeks later, the family was able to purchase a home.

"It's a complete 180 for me to have been someone who didn't know what was going to happen next to now I see a future for myself for my family for my community."

On Monday, Ke'Yona witnessed another moment at Duke Health that also makes her emotional.

Faye Williams, a 67-year-old nurse, was the first person and Black person at Duke Health vaccinated for COVID-19.

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Williams, who said she's feeling great today, is surprised by the fuss, but glad it's inspiring people of color who are disproportionately impacted by the virus to consider the shot.

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This week alone, she has received 80 text messages from neighbors, her sorority Delta Sigma Theta, church members and coworkers, asking how she's doing, inspired by her courage.

"Anyone who talks to me about it I share with them that I am doing fine. I've sent out messages on social media. I've gotten so many texts and emails. I try to answer each of them saying I am fine. I am not having any symptoms and this is something I think you should do," Williams said. "And I've had people tell me because you did it. I think I will do it too."

"Watching her I was about to cry myself," said Barton. "I see it as a reflection for me and my future. What that would look like and how I could be the first of many things."

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Barton said she plans to enroll in medical school and one day become a doctor. She would become the first doctor in her family.

Duke Health plans to vaccinate up to 3,000 frontline workers during phase one of their plan. The shots are voluntary.

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Nurse Williams will receive her second shot in about three weeks.