Lucha Libre, Yoga, Dancing: Welcome to Mexico Metropolis’s Vaccination Websites

MEXICO CITY – Someone in a Charlie Brown costume is desperately waving hello. A person dressed as a monkey pretends to take pictures with a stuffed camera. An elderly man who just got his second recording of the Pfizer vaccine grabs a microphone and starts singing very loudly.

“I’m 78 but they tell me I look 75 and a half,” the man said cheerfully. The assessment was bolstered by his apparent lung strength as he devotedly pulled out a ranchera song.

To improve customer service, vaccination centers in the Mexican capital are now offering a range of entertainment options, including dance, yoga, live opera performances, and the chance to watch shirtless tall lucha libre wrestlers play the levers.

The goal is to make the process as engaging as possible, said a woman who led a song and dance performance for people waiting for a shot on a military paradise in Mexico City on a Wednesday.

“Put those little hands in the air!” she yelled sporadically to the seniors in her care.

“I only do it to keep moving,” said 86-year-old Flora Goldberg, who dutifully raised her arms up and down with the music after being shot.

The effort is even more important given the alarming recurrence of the virus in Latin America and the sputtering vaccination effort in many of its countries. Concerns were recently heightened by the rapid spread of a variant of the virus that was first discovered in Brazil.

At the Mexico City vaccination center, women in white shirts led the crowd in various yoga poses that could be performed in wheelchairs. Men performed tricks with a surprising number of soccer balls. A professional opera singer congratulated everyone.

“What a beautiful day for Mexico,” he said to considerable applause. “I’ll be here all week.”

The pandemic did not treat Mexico well. This is the nation with the third highest coronavirus death toll in the world, where the government has refused to impose strict lockdowns for fear of harming the economy and has not been fully tested because it is a waste of money.

Many believe the only escape from this nightmare is mass vaccination, but the campaign had turned icy. By mid-April, however, the pace had accelerated nationally – and after some initial clutter, the nation’s capital has gotten better at getting shots in the arms efficiently.

“We quickly realized that with the strategy we had in place, we couldn’t provide seniors with the service they deserved,” said Eduardo Clark, who coordinates the city’s vaccination program.

First, the capital vaccinated people in dozens of schools and clinics across the city. With no high-level officials in charge of these locations, the scenes often got chaotic. The elderly waited five hours to take pictures in the sun on the sides of the busy streets, Mr Clark said.

As a result, the government pooled all vaccinations in several large sites – and soon the people who ran them began to compete to see who could make the experience more memorable.

Mr Clark insists the city didn’t try to make its vaccination campaign viral – “I wouldn’t say it was about advertising,” he said. But when Mexican social media was flooded with videos of older people dancing after a recording, he said, “We were really proud of that”. “It almost made me cry.”

It’s hard to tell if the spectacle will increase the turnout, but those who get to a shot are at least partially comforted by all of the activity, said Beatriz Esquivel, who coordinates vaccination centers on behalf of the city.

Updated

May 1, 2021, 10:02 p.m. ET

Older people feared that the vaccine would make them sick or that the government would inject them with air.

“People came in very scared and stressed because they thought the vaccine was going to hurt them,” she said. “We wanted to relax and distract her.”

Ms. Goldberg, the reluctant dancer, said the vaccination process was orderly and efficient – contrary to her assessment of everything the government did during the pandemic.

“It is because of this man, better that I not say his name that said no to masks,” she said. She did not state whether she was referring to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador or his coronavirus tsar Hugo López-Gatell, both of whom have a relationship with wearing masks.

“We could have avoided thousands and thousands of deaths if they had taken it seriously from the start,” she said quietly, before a city worker pushed her out of the observation area.

Half an hour away, in the stadium where the 1968 Olympic Games took place, Maria Silva, who had just received her second AstraZeneca shot, was dancing with five brightly masked Lucha Libre wrestlers named Gravity, Bandido, Guerrero Olímpico, Hijo de Pirata Morgan and Ciclón Ramírez Jr.

“It’s a bit of joy,” Ms. Silva called over the live band that was playing a few meters away and nodded to the beat. “It revives what you have inside of you.”

With the pandemic closure of the wrestling arenas, the government has used the Lucha Libre fighters creatively and got them to enforce the wearing of masks by pretending to be addressing people, and now this.

“I am glad that you are working together in solidarity with the people here,” said Francisca Rodríguez, whose wheelchair had been temporarily commanded by a sweating Ciclón Ramírez Jr.

Ms Rodríguez said Mr López Obrador did “excellent” job dealing with the pandemic, despite admitting that the President was beating about refusing to vaccinate some workers in private hospitals who say they should wait longer than in public hospitals.

“There is currently a media war against President López Obrador,” she said pointedly. “Even American newspapers are attacking the president.”

When people were vaccinated and taken to the area where they were being checked for side effects, the Lucha Libre wrestlers broke out in a “Yes, you could!” Singing.

“My kids will ask me how it was, so I’ll bring them evidence,” said Luis González, 68, and recorded the performance on his cell phone.

When Mr González’s wife got the coronavirus four months ago, he sat by her side and fanned her with a piece of cardboard to try to provide more air to breathe. After 38 years of marriage, he saw her die in her home, waiting for an ambulance.

Long after his observation period was over, Mr. González sat alone in the front row and watched the wrestlers dance.

“You feel the emptiness, especially at night,” he said. “During the days it’s easier to distract me.”

Alejandro Cegarra contributed to the coverage.

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