From Homeless to Hopeful

A Duke employee's journey to distributing the COVID-19 vaccine

Duke employee Ke'Yona Barton administers a COVID-19 vaccine during the week of Dec. 14.

Ke’Yona Barton spent the week of Dec. 14 making history by giving the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to Duke Health System employees.

Each vaccine represents a symbol of hope. It’s both a sign the pandemic will end and a reminder that life is improving for Barton, who battled homelessness this year during the pandemic. 

“I’m someone who remains hopeful,” Barton said. “I knew things were going to get better. I was trying to do everything I can to make my life and my family’s better.”

Barton earned a Master of Biomedical Sciences in May, but a lack of job prospects during the pandemic forced Barton, her mother and two sisters to sleep in a hotel and stay with family friends from early June to mid-August. 

On July 30, Duke Employee Occupational Health & Wellness called with a job opportunity for Barton to clear employees who had COVID-19 to return to work. The position gave Barton the financial security she needed to rent a new home in mid-August for herself, her mom and two sisters.  

When the COVID-19 vaccine became available on Dec. 14, Barton’s colleagues asked her to step in and administer the injection to Duke colleagues. As Barton prepares the vaccine, she welcomes her coworkers with a big smile and warm greeting. 

“I have a big smile. You can see my cheeks go up,” said Barton, who is studying for the Medical College Admission Test. “I have a lot to smile about now.”

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