Of Course Joe Rogan Has a Dangerous and Dumb Take on the Vaccine

"Did Joe Rogan become a medical doctor while we weren’t looking?"

Joe Rogan performs at The Ice House Comedy Club in California in March 2019.
Joe Rogan performs at The Ice House Comedy Club in California in March 2019.
Michael S. Schwartz/Getty Images

The act of two comedians talking for hours on a podcast is — at this point in the great podcast proliferation — a cliche, a synonym for triviality. If you want to listen to a couple funny people (or at least people who think they’re funny) talk out of their butts for a significant portion of your day, that’s your God-given right; but most people understand that just because someone bloviates for hours doesn’t mean they’re an expert on anything they decide to talk about.

No one makes that clearer than Joe Rogan, who recently decided to offer a dumb and blatantly incorrect take on COVID-19 vaccines on his podcast The Joe Rogan Experience. But while his lack of expertise is obvious, his influence as one of the most popular podcasters in the world — and the most popular at Spotify — makes his unfounded medical opinions actively dangerous. 

“People say, do you think it’s safe to get vaccinated? I’ve said, yeah, I think for the most part it’s safe to get vaccinated. I do. I do,” Rogan said in an episode released on April 23. “But if you’re like 21 years old, and you say to me, should I get vaccinated? I’ll go no. Are you healthy? Are you a healthy person? Like, look, don’t do anything stupid, but you should take care of yourself. You should — if you’re a healthy person, and you’re exercising all the time, and you’re young, and you’re eating well, like, I don’t think you need to worry about this.” 

“This,” of course, is COVID-19, the disease behind a pandemic that has officially been declared for 413 days now, that has killed over three million people globally and has been so devastating in part because of asymptomatic spread. As Forbes pointed out, a recent study showed 59% of COVID infections are caused by asymptomatic people. So while young, healthy people are at a lower risk of dying from the disease — though new variants and so-called “long-haul” symptoms are of growing concern — they can still spread it, and we’ve known this for a long time. 

While Rogan has featured legitimate medical experts on his podcast, he chose to espouse his anti-vaccination beliefs on an episode featuring fellow comedian Dave Smith who, instead of pushing back against these misleading claims, just nodded along and even agreed. Thankfully Dr. Anthony Fauci was asked about the comments by Savannah Guthrie on the Today show, offering an outlet to set the record straight, but the comments came five days after the episode was released, after countless people downloaded it and listened to Rogan’s comments. 

“Well that’s incorrect, Savannah,” Dr. Fauci responded when Guthrie read Rogan’s comment about healthy 21-year-olds not needing to get vaccinated. “And the reason why is that you’re talking about yourself in a vacuum … You can get infected, and will get infected, if you put yourself at risk. And even if you don’t have any symptoms, you’re propagating the outbreak, because it is likely … that you may inadvertently and innocently then infect someone else, who might infect someone who really could have a problem with a severe outcome.” 

In essence, he continued, what Rogan is suggesting is “if you only want to worry about yourself.” But if people care about other human beings and the greater good, they’ve “got to be careful and get vaccinated.” (In the U.S., everyone 16 years of age and older is eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is approved for people as young as 16, while the Moderna vaccine is approved for those 18 and up.)

To be frank, we’ve known about asymptomatic spread for a long time. So while Rogan has pitched his COVID misinformation in the guise of offering advice to young people who listen to his show, what he’s really showing here is himself at his most selfish, prioritizing his misguided anecdotal beliefs over that of medical professionals. It’s not a surprise, as his podcast is an exercise in mass consumption navel gazing, and because we’ve had a number of armchair medical experts crop up during the pandemic; but what is a surprise is that Spotify has given this anti-vax sentiment the A-OK.

White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield put it best when she told CNN, “Did Joe Rogan become a medical doctor while we weren’t looking?” That’s a rhetorical question.

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