Dr. Robert Drummond is committed to educating the black community on the COVID-19 vaccine. Dr. Robert Drummond and his wife Shanique are both cast members of BRAVO’s hit show, Married to the Medicine.
A native of Jacksonville, Florida, Dr. Drummond attended Morehouse College. He graduated Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in Biology. After graduation, Dr. Drummond enrolled in the Medical Scientist Training Program at The John Hopkins University School of Medicine. From there, he received both his MD and Ph.D. in Cellular and Molecular Medicine. He is currently the Lead Clinician and Director of Laboratories at the Montebello Urgent Care Center with OPTUM. In addition, he works as a Concierge Physician in the Greater Los Angeles area. He is also a medical consultant for various corporations throughout the country.
Dr. Robert Drummond spoke with the Chicago Defender to discuss why he decided to use his social media platform to tackle the Black community’s pushback regarding COVID-19 and the vaccine.
History of coronaviruses (as explained by Dr. Drummond).
Coronaviruses are not new. Coronavirus 1 through 4 causes the common cold all the time. In 2003, a new species, coronavirus 5 was discovered and led to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). SARS had an 18% mortality rate and about 8,000 people were infected. Then, in 2013, another species that was found worse than SARS called coronavirus 6 caused MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome). It had a 33% mortality rate. In 2019, we found yet another new species, coronavirus 7 or SARS COV2, which caused COVID19.
What are the vaccinations in the works now and how effective are they?
In addition to Moderna and Pfizer, there are two other vaccines coming down the pipeline: AstraZeneca, a 2-dose vaccine, and Novavax, a protein-based vaccine. All are different on how they are created, the number of doses needed, efficacy, etc. For the most part, these vaccinations are above the threshold we were hoping for which was between 50-60% efficacy. All five vaccines are near 100% effective.
How long does it typically take to create a vaccination? And how was a COVID-19 vaccine developed so quickly?
For those who are concerned about the vaccines, especially the mRNA-based ones (mRNA stands for messenger ribonucleic acid), we’ve been working on this technology for 30 years. In fact, Katalin Karikó, a Hungary-born biochemist has been researching mRNA technology for decades. After years of rejection and unsuccessful attempts to secure funding to continue her research, in 1995, she was demoted. Dr. Kariko didn’t give up. She teamed up with her colleague, Dr. Drew Weissman, and together they developed a method of utilizing synthetic mRNA to fight disease that involves changing the way the body produces virus-fighting material. This development paved the way for the COVID19 vaccine.
It’s important that I tell people that we’ve always known about coronaviruses, we’ve understood how they work and how they infect, and we’ve been working behind the scenes for a very long time. We took the information that we knew about the other coronaviruses and applied it to this one to create vaccines that are safe and effective.
What do you say to those that say “If you’ve been studying this since the 1990s, how in the world could the 2020 pandemic happen? And, why were so many lives lost before a vaccine was created?”
While we’ve been studying the family of coronaviruses for all of these years, there’s nothing that could have anticipated some of the subtle nuances of SARS COV2 because it’s not operating as the other ones. If you look at coronavirus 5, it came out of nowhere, caused SARS, and infected 8k. It presented itself as the flu – you got exposed and in two days, you knew you had it. Like with the flu, you don’t halfway get it or walk around asymptomatic. It hits you like a ton of bricks and you’re as sick as a dog. Next coronavirus 6 came along and caused MERS which was worse from a mortality standpoint; 1 out of 3 people who contracted this disease died from it. So again, when you have a virus like that, it hits like a ton of bricks and within two days of exposure, you knew you had it. With SARS and MERS, it was easy to identify the individuals infected and quarantine them before it got out of control.
Initially, with COVID19, there was nothing presented that this virus was any different from the others. Unfortunately, this turned out not to be the case. We didn’t know anything about asymptomatic transmission, or a 2–14-day incubation period. This virus was unlike the other coronaviruses that had 100% disease transmission, which means 100% of the people who showed symptoms got the disease. With COVID19, 40% of people had no symptoms. How do you stop something that is hiding? This coronavirus came with a new set of tools to infect and spread that we were not prepared for. You can only be so ready when a new enemy comes and brings some things that you’ve never seen before.
What motivated you to use your social media and other platforms to educate the Black community on COVID-19 and the vaccine?
After a conversation with my wife, she encouraged me to put some information out there that would ease people’s fears about the virus and the vaccine. I noticed that trust in doctors and belief in the realness of the virus decreased due to the spread of misinformation. As a result, I started posting videos – breaking down COVID-19 and the vaccination process. I sent my first video to my Morehouse College Professors, David B. Cooke and J.K. Haynes, two Black men whom I look up to. They loved it and gave me their stamp of approval. The goal of my videos is to present them in a way that most people will understand. My motivation is simply this: African Americans are dying at a rate 2.7% times the Caucasian population but then at the same time only 40% of African Americans polled said they’re going to take the vaccine. This means that hundreds of thousands of Black people are going to die and probably due to misinformation. They might make a different decision if they have the information and it’s presented from a neutral standpoint.
“You can’t treat if you can’t empathize understand and share the feelings of another. As a medical community, we have to do a better job of listening to our patients and understanding their concerns and fears.”
You can find Dr. Drummond’s videos on educating the Black community and beyond on Instagram, @dr.robertdrummond. He also participates in a forum of 25 Black male physicians from all over the country who provide the community with real medicine right now. Search #RMRN on Instagram to gain access to a plethora of information and education on medical issues from A to Z.