Statewide partnership takes the fight against pandemic to the mat

Health agencies took the fight against COVID-19 literally on Monday when they used luchadores to share vaccine information with families entering the Walmart in Edinburg.

Mask-clad wrestlers in bright colored capes, shirts and shorts were easy to spot as they waved and approached families walking in and out of the store from the eastern entrance.

Two boys were trying to throw basketballs through the hoop of a booth that encouraged them to ‘Take the Shot.’

“I’m glad they actually have this,” 29-year-old Jayda Hoskins said as watched her nephews play. “Kids can come out and enjoy the fun.”

El Destroyer, La Lechuza, El Dragón and La Tormenta, all luchadores, are part of a collaboration to fight not just the virus but the misinformation surrounding its vaccine as well.

“It’s a serious subject. It’s a serious matter, but we’re approaching it in a way to keep it fun and interesting,” Robert Santiago, an outreach manager, said about the event.

While children played basketball, got their faces painted, ate a cool popsicle or engaged with the wrestlers, the parents had a chance to speak to some of the nurses and healthcare providers ready with clipboards and pamphlets.

“We need more people like them to interact with the people instead of just ‘get the COVID shot,’” Rita Guzman, 68, said Monday. “Nobody wants to do it like that. You need to have interaction, characters, comics, anime, wrestling.”

Guzman was one of several adults who approached the booth without children to receive information about the services offered on site. Although she is fully vaccinated, she said events like this might have helped her get the vaccine sooner.

“I didn’t get my first COVID-19 [shot] until way later, because I was afraid of what would happen. Nobody knew what it was about,” Guzman said. It wasn’t until a pharmacist from Walmart talked with her directly and addressed her concerns and questions that she came around.

Those same concerns are still heard by healthcare professionals, even at Monday’s event.

Walmart pharmacist Thao Phan administered the free Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to people 12 years old and over. Many still had questions about the side effects and its effectiveness period.

A family walks past the pop up event with luchadores at the Walmart on University Drive, Monday, Sept. 12, 2022, in Edinburg. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

Two hours into the event, Phan had vaccinated about 20 people, but it was beginning to pick up. Some people lined up too early to receive the free COVID-19 vaccines, but she expected them to return that evening.

The private-public collaboration that involved Walmart, the Texas Department of State Health Services and the Hidalgo County Health and Human Services is hosting 16 events like this across Texas. Aside from Edinburg, they’ve stopped at San Antonio and Austin. Then they’ll be heading to Corpus Christi, Tyler, the Dallas/Fort Worth area, Amarillo, Lubbock and El Paso.

“The event is to encourage families to become fully vaccinated, including the newly released booster,” Santiago said.

Hidalgo County announced Monday it had received its allotment of the new updated booster. The vaccines will be distributed to Hidalgo County health clinics and will be available to the public at no charge.

Monday’s event in Edinburg aimed to provide access to information and help those who may be wavering about taking it.

Hoskins, who attended the event with her nephews, wasn’t fully convinced it was the best option for her.

“Honestly, not for sure. I’m not really into the shots for religious issues,” Hoskins said. “But I think it’s a good idea to have this.”

Guzman, the enthusiastic silver-haired patron, was excited about the opportunities the event gave communities like hers.

“This draws more attention,” Guzman said. “I actually do love it, and they should do more of these.”