Superhero Joins the Fight Against COVID-19

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the largely Spanish-speaking communities of San Bernardino County in Southern California have experienced high rates of COVID-related illness and death. Yet, these communities have also faced vaccine hesitancy and low rates of vaccination.

Community health workers at local educational center El Sol have engaged in a number of COVID-19 prevention efforts, including dozens of pop-up vaccination events and clinics throughout the Inland Empire-a vast metropolitan region located just east of Los Angeles. This important work is supported by the CDC Foundation’s Partnering for Vaccine Equity (P4VE) program.

Recognizing the complexities around gaining people’s trust in the vaccines and in communicating the importance of getting vaccinated, El Sol community health workers, or promotores in Spanish, have taken a unique route to promoting COVID-19 vaccination in the local community.

As part of a recent initiative, a group of El Sol promotores conceived of “Captain Empath,” or "Capitán Compasión" in Spanish, a public health superhero who arrives to save the community from COVID-19. The promotores created an educational campaign surrounding Captain Empath, along with a supporting cast of characters based on real El Sol promotores. The campaign includes colorful activity books, a comic strip series, and a community theater production.

The promotores wrote and performed their play at several local schools–aided by a theater instructor who gave them pointers on acting for the stage.

The comic series, created by a professional animator and available in both English and Spanish, brings the story of Captain Empath to life. This colorful and accessible approach to educating others about the importance of COVID-19 vaccination is shareable on social media, creating an easy opportunity to share Captain Empath with a significantly wider audience.

“Story telling assists El Sol in expanding the audience it can reach,” said Promotor Natanael Chavez, who plays the role of Captain Empath. “Every skit is different; we improvise and do our best to improve for a more energetic outcome. With all the hours of practice, memorizing, and actual skit time, I have been able to enjoy myself and expand and change Captain Empath’s personality as I become more comfortable. Being part of this effort has been an experience I will never forget.”

El Sol Executive Director Alex Fajardo is proud of his team’s efforts to create awareness around the importance of getting vaccinated for COVID-19.

“We don’t want to just provide services—we want to transform communities in which we’re providing services,” said Mr. Fajardo. “There is a lot of potential in the promotores because they know the communities they’re working in, and they know what these communities need. So, it’s important to support them, and support their ideas. This way, each community will be able to find their own solutions.”

The CDC Foundation’s P4VE funding helps El Sol provide trainings, print materials, and disseminate these educational materials throughout the local community. So far, El Sol community health workers have distributed approximately 15,000 COVID-19 care kits, which include comics, activity books and educational posters and are training community health workers in outreach and public education. As a result, nearly 19,000 people have already been vaccinated against COVID-19.

As the battle against COVID-19 continues, Captain Empath and the promotores of El Sol will keep looking for new and creative ways to keep their community safe–and have fun while doing it.

Federal funding for this project is supported through cooperative agreement 1 NH23IP922652-01-00 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) totaling $25,660,048 with 100 percent funding from CDC/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by CDC/HHS, or the U.S. Government

Courtenay Singer
Courtenay Singer, MPH, is the director of production and new media for the CDC Foundation's department of infectious disease programs.