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Trusted Messenger: Bringing Stories of Local Leaders Encouraging COVID-19 Vaccination

A man receives a vaccination from a clinician

When Alma Galván, MHC, received the new documentary, "Trusted Messenger,” from filmmaker Chris Newberry in September 2021, she immediately knew that it could have a lasting positive impact on Spanish-speaking audiences, if an official set of Spanish subtitles were developed.

Galván thought the film “showed the challenges and strategies that health providers continue facing with COVID-19 and the importance of trust when providing health services for migrant, immigrant, and refugees” that health care workers could use as “a useful tool to fight vaccine hesitancy.”

Galván, a senior program manager with Migrant Clinicians Network, reached out to Newberry to see how the audience of this documentary could be expanded, so Newberry worked promptly to develop and include subtitles in Spanish. The two brought in HACER, a Minnesota-based organization dedicated to advocacy for the Latinx population in Minnesota that was featured in the film, to present an online premier for the Spanish-language version of the film.

The documentary follows Twins Cities-area nurses and community leaders who are respected in their fields, in the community, and among their peers. The film is designed to help clinicians better understand their own role as messengers within their communities and how they can effectively converse with their communities and encourage vaccination.

MCN’s partners at the National Resource Center for Refugees, Immigrants and Migrants (NRC-RIM) aided Newberry when he initially began crafting the film in 2020. Newberry had discussed making a film on the topic with Dr. Bill Stauffer at NRC-RIM and together they assessed that an important angle would be the way vaccination is available in Black, Indigenous, immigrant, and migrant communities. Both were certain that there would be some accessibility issues with vaccine rollout and that it may prove challenging to vaccinate these communities. Newberry’s filming process began as vaccinations first become available in December 2020 and the film was released in English in September 2021.

The Trusted Messengers panel

The Spanish-language version, "Voces de Confianza,” was premiered online on February 17th after HACER and MCN sponsored a panel, facilitated by Alma Galván, made up of many of the people interviewed in the documentary as well as, Chris Newberry, and María Isabel Valdivia, the associate producer and editor on the film. The other panelists were featured in the film as interview subjects, including Rodolfo Gutiérrez, Executive Director of HACER, Barbara Garcia, the Family Health Coordinator for Tri-Valley Opportunity Council’s Migrant Head Start program in Owatonna, MN, and Miguel Ruiz, MD, a hospice and palliative care physician at Regions Hospital in St. Paul.

“We wanted to provide a perspective from the people who spoke Spanish in the film,” according to Galván. “We wanted to build the perspectives of both the urban and more rural settings, how one becomes a trusted messenger [in the Latinx community].” Gutiérrez was able to provide a public health perspective in the Twin Cities, as a member of a health care nonprofit that works with the Latinx population in the area. Several of the health care professionals were able to share their stories working within the community and their experiences distributing vaccinations in the Twin Cities. Newberry and Valdivia attended together and were able to share their thought process on the creation of the film and discuss the challenges of film production and the process of subtitling.

Much of the original film was in Spanish and needed to be subtitled for the initial English release. In the film, Elder Villatoro, the pastor for Iglesia Evangelica Pentecostes El Alto y Eterno Dios, a Spanish-language evangelical church in Minneapolis, was interviewed as a trusted voice in the Latinx community. Having survived severe COVID-19 himself, he was able to tell firsthand how dangerous the virus could be and encouraged vaccination among his congregation. Newberry was introduced to Villatoro through Dr. Ruiz, who worked to help Villatoro when he was hospitalized with COVID-19. As a community leader and a COVID-19 survivor, Villatoro’s voice was an important one and his story was a powerful part of the documentary. Many scenes featured him speaking to his congregation in Spanish, and Newberry’s associate producer was vital in the capture of those moments. Newberry credits Valdivia with the careful interpretation from Spanish to English, and he leaned on her again to develop Spanish subtitles for the second release.

“She caught several things that you wouldn’t expect someone to catch if they hadn’t been intimately involved in the making of the film. I couldn’t have made the film without her and I certainly couldn’t have created the Spanish-subtitled version without her,” Newberry said.

A clinician speaks with a patient

Many of the film's featured messengers were discovered by word of mouth. Newberry interviewed several people with whom he connected through NRC-RIM and people at the Minnesota Department of Health. He was able to connect with organizations like HACER and Black Nurses Rock, as well as community leaders like Tito Wilson, who owns Wilson’s Image Barbers and Stylists, a barber shop that functions as a community hub, thanks to several connections he had within the community. A doctor he talked to while filming was a regular client of Wilson’s Image and encouraged Newberry to reach out.

Some of those new connections endured even after filming was done. Kelly Robinson of Black Nurses Rock and Dr. Zeke McKinney helped Wilson to set up weekly vaccination clinics at his shop. Wilson was initially skeptical of the vaccines at the beginning of filming, but over the course of the process, got vaccinated, and has since become a leader in the community in the fight against COVID-19.

“A trusted messenger could be someone outside of health care,” offered Newberry. "There’s space for, and in fact a need for, informal leaders in the community to be talking about the vaccine... I had outlined the film in the beginning thinking we would mostly be hearing from people within health care and public health, so it was a pleasant surprise to follow people outside of health care doing good work.”

Accessibility of the COVID-19 vaccine has been a constant battle since its initial release, and information about the effectiveness and safety of the vaccines has been difficult to get out into underserved communities. Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has also been a constant flow of misinformation. Correcting these narratives and getting positive leadership and voices in every community has been critical. Making this documentary available for all in Spanish is another critical piece of the fight against COVID-19 to ensure that everyone has access to accurate information, no matter what language they speak and no matter what community they belong to.


You can watch Trusted Messenger and the discussion panel on HACER's YouTube channel:

Also available on our MCN website, here is the following link:


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