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Employee gets vaccinated for herself – and her community


Tonya Barham, left, got vaccinated for herself and her community.

Tonya Barham volunteered to get a COVID-19 vaccine for two reasons: for herself and for her community. Barham, an information associate in the Emergency Department, said she was leery of the vaccine initially, but working at a hospital during the height of the pandemic was frightening.

“When you’re a person of color, there are a lot of reasons not to trust the government when it comes to medical issues,” she said, pointing to the history of systemic racism in healthcare. “My family doesn’t believe in taking anything that’s given as a vaccine. I grew up with those suspicions. But being here at YNHH and seeing how sick everyone was with COVID – that scared me. Do I want to get sick? Do I want my family to get sick? No. So I decided to start talking to people.”

Barham sought out physicians of color at YNHH and asked for their input on the vaccine. All of them told her they would be getting it to protect themselves, their families and their patients. “It reassured me to see other people in my community who had gotten it,” she said.

Even with the reassurances from medical staff, Barham said she decided to schedule her vaccination appointment after she overheard a number of employees of color say they did not intend to get the vaccine.

“I asked a few people, if someone they know who looks like them got the shot, would they get it, too? They said they would. I thought, then I need to be the one who does it. Someone needs to show that it’s safe.”

Barham is very active in a number of New Haven organizations, and she said she felt the weight of responsibility for those communities as well. “How can I go around telling people how we can be a better community but then I’m too scared to do my part to help get this pandemic under control?” she said. On Jan. 6, Barham arrived at the Special Events Room and offered her arm to the nurse for her first dose. “I feel good about it,” she said. “And I’m very proud of myself for doing it.”