The Oscar-winning actor Benicio Del Toro lost his uncle to Covid-19 exactly one year ago, and his brother, the chief medical officer of a hospital in New York City, contracted the virus while on the front line of the fight against the pandemic.
“Because of that, I have been closely informed, almost play-by-play, of the incredible challenges that front line and health care workers have had to face in 2020,” Del Toro said during a press briefing Tuesday.
But he saw “a light at the end of the tunnel” in December when the Covid-19 vaccine rollout began across the nation. Several weeks later, his brother opened up to Del Toro about his concerns regarding low vaccination rates in Latino communities.
“When I asked him why, he said that one of the reasons was lack of truthful information and lack of outreach,” Del Toro said. That’s when the Puerto Rican actor decided to partner with the actor Zoe Saldana to create a bilingual campaign to combat Covid-19 vaccine misinformation in an effort to encourage more Latinos to get vaccinated.
With the nation preparing to meet President Joe Biden's latest goal of administering 200 million shots in his first 100 days in office, campaigns such as the one created by Del Toro are bringing a new sense of urgency as all Americans 16 and older are now eligible to receive vaccinations.
The video campaign features Dr. Gustavo del Toro, chief medical officer at the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center, as he answers questions from both his brother and Saldana to clarify some of the most common misconceptions about Covid-19 vaccines across Latino communities and beyond.
The disproportionate rate at which Latinos and other communities of color contracted, suffered complications from and died of Covid-19 in the past year led public health officials to push for an equitable distribution of vaccines.
As of April 20, the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention reported that race and ethnicity were known for just 55 percent of the people who have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccination. Among this group, nearly two-thirds are white (64 percent), 12 percent are Hispanic, 9 percent are Black, and 6 percent are Asian.
Covid-19 has killed at least 69,199 Latinos since the start of the pandemic. Most of them have died at much younger ages and at a rate of almost three times that of the country's white population, according to the CDC.
The staggering loss of young Latino lives, particularly those of people in their 30s and 40s, led to a reduction in overall Latino life expectancy that is more than three times the reduction among white people, according to a peer-reviewed study published in February by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"Of all the people who got the vaccine in the trials for the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, not a single person died of Covid-19 infection. So in my mind, bottom line is: They're equal," Dr. Gustavo Del Toro said when his brother and Saldana asked which Covid-19 vaccine is better.
The videos with Del Toro and Saldana will be distributed with the help of the Momento Latino advocacy group and the SOMOS Community Care networks, which provide health services in New York.
"It's great that we can partner with them because they can really help get the word out there to our Latinx communities and to anyone who wants to listen," Del Toro said. "Our intention is not to tell people what to do. We just want to bring out the information about the vaccines and then let people make their own decisions."