SC CTSI Project Inspires Filmmakers to Create Award-Winning Documentary on Getting Vaccinated

by Emily Lai — May 03, 2023

With over 2.9 million cases and 32,000 deaths to date, Los Angeles has spent considerable time as the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. over the past two years. Unfortunately, the pandemic has affected the city’s lower-income communities the most.

Vaccinate Watts is a film directed, written, and edited by Michael v. Greene (Everyone Can Eat) that chronicles the efforts of local churches, politicians, and medical institutions to reach underserved neighborhoods and encourage residents to get vaccinated. It shines a light on the challenges physicians face while fighting on the front lines, individuals who lost loved ones to the disease, and patients hospitalized with COVID who are now managing long-term effects.

Sean McBride (Everyone Can Eat), who co-wrote and produced the film along with Greene says they were first inspired to create the film while shooting interviews for the SC CTSI Vaccinate LA campaign at one of the early vaccine clinics at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Watts.

“One of the parishioners made a comment to us that, ‘you guys are documenting history’, and that really stuck with us, and got the idea in our head that maybe this actually could be a film,” said McBride.

Vaccinate Watts step and repeat w/ Allison Orechwa and Sean McBride
SC CTSI Senior Director Allison Orechwa and filmmaker Sean McBride

Greene and McBride began interviewing different doctors who worked at LAC + USC Medical Center, then members of the community at vaccine clinics and health fairs put on by partnering organizations of SC CTSI. These interviews comprise the bulk of the source footage for the film.

Greene and McBride’s hope for the film is to not only inspire people to get vaccinated, but also to give their audience a newfound appreciation for healthcare providers and to never give up. Greene’s hope is for people to see how the community of Watts was excluded from the initial vaccine rollout.

“Why did that happen? Was it intentional? Those are the questions that will be answered when we tell the whole story,” said Greene.

The film has also seen tangible results, receiving two awards: Best Short Documentary, Santa Clarita International Film Festival 2022, and Official Selection, American Public Health Association Film Festival 2022.

Vaccinate Watts Best Short Documentary
Photo courtesy Michael Greene

“It felt great,” Greene said. “It’s the kind of recognition we need to help tell the whole story in a feature length documentary. And there is so much of the story that hasn’t been told yet.”

The recognition was just a bonus. Greene and McBride were especially pleased with the changes in vaccination rates.

“Nothing is better than the 30% higher vaccination areas in the areas we targeted early on. Just goes to show, if you have a great team in place, and everyone is focused, a lot of great things can happen. This has been a pleasure to be a part of,” McBride added.

While people continue to be divided on the topic of vaccines, this film serves as a reminder of the lengths that public officials, public health advocates, and healthcare practitioners need to go to in order to overcome disinformation and the general public's distrust of science. It also shows the value of collaborating with storytellers and filmmakers to show people how public health can impact the community in positive ways.

The film can be viewed at

NIH Funding Acknowledgment: Important - All publications resulting from the utilization of SC CTSI resources are required to credit the SC CTSI grant by including the NIH funding acknowledgment and must comply with the NIH Public Access Policy.