The cast pose on stage at the El Sol Neighborhood Educational Center following a production of a superhero-themed COVID-19 play in San Bernardino, California.—AFP photos

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's Captain Empathy, a superhero ready to vanquish misinformation about vaccines in a Hollywood-style twist on the fight against COVID-19. Wearing a yellow cape, the warrior battles the evil Coronavirus with medical science as his superpower in a piece of educational theater in San Bernardino, near Los Angeles, California. The hero disarms his nemesis by convincing two young people to get immunized. "We thought of this play as a way to educate people about the importance of vaccines, especially young people," says director Valentina Sanabria.

"There are many people who are resisting the vaccine... because of rumors that it contains a microchip, or because... not enough time has passed to take a good look and educate themselves," she says. Vaccines in the United States are free and widely available for anyone over the age of 12 who wants them, but just 51 percent of the population is fully immunized against COVID-19. The low vaccination rate has doctors worried. They say that a recent surge in cases-driven by the infectious Delta variant-is largely affecting the unvaccinated, particularly in conservative southern states, among ethnic minorities and in poorer communities.

Captain Empath played by Nathaniel Chavez, fights the COVID-19 virus, played by Kenneth Artry during a superhero-themed COVID-19 play at the El Sol Neighborhood Educational Center .

"Captain Empathy vs. COVID-19" is a community-based effort to counter the skepticism about vaccines, with the spikey-shelled villain seen spreading lies about the effects of the jab. "We are doing this to fight back against the misinformation," says Natanael Chavez, who plays the hero. "Not being vaccinated puts the whole family at risk."

With great power comes great responsibility, but, it appears, Captain Empathy is equal to the task, and has already won over at least one cast member. "I thought that since I already had COVID, I already had antibodies and I didn't need to get vaccinated," says Julia Perez, 26, who plays one of the girls initially refusing the jab. "Here they let me know that it's important," said Perez, who, like her character, is now ready to book her shot. - AFP