By Brenda Gazzar
Code Wack Podcast, January 4, 2021
Featuring Dr. Rob Davidson, practicing emergency room doctor and head of Committee to Protect Medicare. How can we overcome vaccine hesitancy among Americans? Why do some communities have serious concerns around seeking medical care? Host Brenda Gazzar and Dr. Rob Davidson, discuss the Committee to Protect Medicare’s vaccine campaign, the latest mRNA vaccine technology and why he trusts the new COVID-19 vaccines.
Welcome to Code WACK!, your podcast on America’s broken healthcare system and how Medicare for All could help. I’m your host, Brenda Gazzar.
After nearly a year of living in the coronavirus pandemic, the COVID vaccines are finally here. What do we know about them and their safety?
I spoke with Dr. Rob Davidson, an ER physician and head of the Committee to Protect Medicare, on why he’s taking the vaccine and urging others to do so as well.
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Thanks for joining us, Dr. Rob!
Q: Tell me about the Committee to Protect Medicare’s vaccine campaign. Who is the campaign targeting and what issues will you focus on?
Dr. Rob: Essentially, it’s going to be a campaign, primarily having doctors in communities where they work, communities where they can basically talk directly to the patients that they serve, trying to convince people in certain demographics that the vaccine is safe, that it is important — important for their own community, for their own families, primarily looking at African American communities. Right now in the state of Michigan, probably in the state of Florida as well, and certainly looking at members of our organization in different states, trying to kind of mimic this. And we did during the (presidential) campaign, a little more political work, more targeting of message to particular groups of voters. We feel like some of those techniques of messaging, to individuals through social media, through text campaigns, emails are other ways that we can hopefully communicate with individuals within certain communities as a way to work in parallel with state governments, with local governments, with the federal government on their mass messaging campaigns, what they’re doing on TV or through digital ads, we can be doing that at more granular level in very specific communities.
Q: Got it. So you’re looking at recruiting doctors of color to help convince their communities that the vaccine is safe and would be a good thing to do in light of this crisis?
Dr. Rob: Yeah, that’s certainly part of it. I mean a number of members of our organization are physicians and also who are people of color, who are very clear that — and we understand that, I understand, I’m sure you understand and a lot of people listening understand — many communities of color are very suspicious of the big industrial medical complex for various reasons, including the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, including Henrietta Lacks and just many other issues that people have endured from the sort of medical industrial complex and the government health complex and these suspicions are real. They’re valid and we don’t want to discount those suspicions or those concerns so it isn’t so much having people talk at people. It’s more having people engage with folks in their community, to try to understand what the concerns are and try to alleviate those concerns as much as possible.
Q: Right, and people of color are much more likely to contract and die from COVID.
Dr. Rob: That’s the kicker here. They’ve been so disproportionately impacted, you know, for various reasons, be it a lack of health care, be it the fact that a lot of jobs in those communities are front-facing jobs in the public that can’t be done from home via Zoom, or via any other means. So they just have been more at risk — these essential workers that are a part of the next wave of people getting the vaccine. I’m extremely hopeful that we can get a number of those folks, significant numbers, to decrease the impact on those communities.
Q: There are many objections to getting vaccines, in general, and to getting the COVID vaccine specifically. As a physician, what concerns about vaccines do you have — and with the COVID vaccine, do you have any concerns about them?
Dr. Rob: The way I look at vaccines is this. Are there some side effects? Absolutely. Are there potential risks? For sure, with any vaccine. But do the benefits of that vaccine in an individual, and also in a population, outweigh the risks of the vaccine? I think for this, for the coronavirus, for COVID-19, that is absolutely true by everything we had talked about previously; the massive numbers of cases, over 300,000 people dead — probably going to be half a million dead or so by the time we get most of our population vaccinated — the disproportionate impact on communities of color, what it has done to our economy because of the measures that need to be taken to try to mitigate the spread of the virus. I think all of that together is such a massive risk to populations and to communities and to individuals that the vaccine, with the current safety profile that we know of, to me is a no brainer for me. And I will advocate for it for my patients and again, across our vaccine campaign.
You know the current risks, to me the only issue is, did this come to market faster than any other vaccine ever? Yes, that is absolutely true. It’s also the only vaccine developed in the midst of a pandemic that has been killing this unprecedented number of people, and killed our economy, and is sickening so many people. So the need was there for this rapid development.
The technology has been there since 2011 where they’ve been working on antibodies against certain types of cancer. So, so that technology has been there. I trust the technology. I appreciate the mRNA technology if people don’t know how it all works.
They take a bit of genetic code from the virus called RNA and they put it in a little carrier, they inject it, it gets into your muscle cells, and then that RNA, that bit of genetic code is taken up by your own body’s system and your body makes this protein that looks like viral protein. …There’s no actual part of the virus (in the vaccine). This has all been manufactured in the lab, this genetic code, and then as soon as the protein is made, the RNA goes away. It’s dissolved. And the only thing left is your own body’s protein that looks like a virus. So your body says, this doesn’t look like self and makes antibodies and that’s how you develop an immune response.
Relative to any other vaccine technology out there, the live attenuated or where they take pieces of the virus, pieces of the bacterium, to me, this appears to be the most straightforward, safest way one could get vaccinated. Probably it will be a technology they use for other vaccines in the future. So I trust it. I trust it.
Thank you, Dr. Rob.
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