Jeffrey Drew has been on various HIV treatments for nearly 32 years, but these days his daily regimen involves zero pills. Drew’s viral load is currently undetectable, he says, and he is not taking any meds for his HIV. The Los Angeles-based casting director claims to be effectively cured of HIV after taking part in an experimental vaccine trial over the past year and a half.
Drew’s journey is chronicled in the short film, Right to Try, co-produced by Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer and featuring a song from pop superstar Katy Perry. Directed by Zeberiah Newman, Right to Try won the Audience Award for Documentary Short at this summer’s Outfest, Los Angeles’s LGBTQ+ film festival, and is slated for wide release December 1,on World AIDS Day.
The movie chronicles the debilitating side effects Drew experienced during the trial’s early days and how COVID interrupted the entire process (the doctor spearheading the experimental vaccine was initially yanked away from his HIV duties to work on the eventual coronavirus vaccine). Newman also had to operate around filming complications due to social distancing, and dealing with a subject who most doctors would consider immunocompromised.
But Drew — who was paid nothing for the trial as it was not funded by a major pharmaceutical company — saw his participation as a labor of love. “Truthfully, survivor guilt has a lot to do with my decision [to participate],” Drew says. “I’m very fortunate. I lost so many friends and it plays on my psyche and my spirits some days. That’s why I still do fundraisers and get involved. Truthfully, with those warriors in the late ’80s [and] early ’90s that took to the streets and demanded health care and help for people who were dying, there’s a throughline why we have the ability to marry and other gay rights.”
Drew says researchers are continuing to study his body’s reaction to the experimental vaccine. Whatever the outcome of Drew’s HIV status, he sees his participation as a step towards the long-sought cure.
“I would love to see a generationof people who wouldn’t have to deal with HIV and AIDS,” Drew says. “People are still getting infected, people are still developing into full-blown AIDS around the world. Even if the trial is a big flop, they have all this new information now. That was important to me.”