Joe Rogan (Not a Doctor) Spreads Anti-Vaccine Misinformation

Dr. Anthony Fauci called the podcast host's recent comments about young people and COVID-19 vaccines "incorrect."

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Claim

Young, healthy people don't need to "worry" about getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Rating

Context

Whether or not someone should worry is a subjective decision, but any implication that young people are at no risk of serious COVID-19 complications is a fiction. So far, young, healthy people have been less likely to develop serious complications from COVID-19, however, low risk is not the same as no risk, especially as variants spread. Also, getting vaccinated decreases transmission of the disease, which can benefit young people's friends, families, and community members who may be at a higher risk.

Origin

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On April 27, 2021, podcast host, mixed martial arts commentator, and non-doctor Joe Rogan suggest to the millions of people who listen to the “Joe Rogan Experience,” the most popular podcast on Spotify in 2020, that there is no need for young people to concern themselves with the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Rogan said:

“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 … 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? … 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.”

Rogan, who has been vaccinated himself along with his family, said that he thinks it is “safe to get vaccinated,” but he goes on to suggest that young, healthy people have no real reason to get vaccinated. Rogan is wrong. 

Here are a few reasons why young, healthy people should still get the COVID-19 vaccine. 

1. Young, Healthy People Are Not Immune to COVID-19

Rogan’s claim is based on the inaccurate assumption that COVID-19 only affects the sick and elderly. While it is true that elderly people and those with underlying health conditions have a greater risk of dying or suffering severe symptoms, young people are not immune to COVID-19. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 2,000 people between the ages of 18 and 29 have died from COVID-19. 

ABC 7 Chicago reported on such a young, healthy person who died from COVID-19 in October 2020:

2. Young, Healthy People Are Not Immune to COVID-19

Although the chances of death from COVID-19 may be relatively low for young, healthy people, it is not an impossibility. As noted above, young, healthy people with no preexisting conditions have died from this disease. But death is not the only concern.

“Long covid,” a term used to describe the lingering impacts of the disease, can also affect young and healthy people. For example, Mo Bamba and Jayson Tatum, two 22-year-old NBA players who certainly seem to meet Rogan’s definition of “young and healthy,” struggled for months to get back into NBA shape after they were diagnosed with COVID-19 in the summer of 2020. As of this writing, both have returned to the league, but Tatum now needs to take an inhaler to “open up my lungs” before games:

“It’s a process. It takes a long time. I take an inhaler before the game since I’ve tested positive. This has kind of helped with that and opened up my lungs, and, you know, I never took an inhaler before. So that’s something different.”

These long COVID-19 symptoms can manifest even in people who were not hospitalized after their initial diagnosis. 

3. Young, Healthy People Are Not Immune to COVID-19

While the elderly and infirm were at the greatest risk during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, that trend started to shift as the virus mutated in 2021. A more contagious strain of the virus called B.1.1.7 has been found in all 50 states and it has led to an increase in hospitalizations of young people. 

New Jersey, for example, saw a 31% jump in COVID-19 hospitalizations in March among young adults ages 20 to 29. Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a CNN medical analyst and professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University, said:

“What we’re seeing in a bunch of places now is sick, young people — hospitalized young people. Whereas earlier on in the pandemic, it was primarily older people … “What we’re seeing in a bunch of places now is sick, young people — hospitalized young people. Whereas earlier on in the pandemic, it was primarily older people. The reason for this might be as simple as the older population in this country has either been exposed to this virus, killed by the virus, or now vaccinated against the virus … The unvaccinated — those are the people who are getting infected — we’re seeing a large number of young people, and they’re the ones we’re seeing in hospitals now.”

4. Young, Healthy People Are Not Immune to COVID-19

One of the most confusing aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the idea of asymptomatic transmission. This means that a person may be infected with COVID-19 even though they don’t show any outward symptoms. Although this asymptomatic person will avoid hospitalization (although they could develop long COVID as mentioned above), they can still spread the disease to other people. 

In other words, a young, healthy person may not suffer serious symptoms from COVID-19, but they can carry the virus and pass it to someone who might. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to United States President Joe Biden, emphasized this point when he addressed Rogan’s comments:

Fauci said:

“(Rogan is) incorrect. And the reason why is that you’re talking about yourself in a vacuum then. You’re worried about yourself getting infected and the likelihood that you’re not going to get any symptoms. But you can get infected and will get infected if you put yourself at risk. And even if you don’t have any symptoms you are propagating the outbreak because it is likely that you, even if you have no symptoms, that you may inadvertently and innocently then infect someone else who might infect someone who really could have a problem with a severe outcome.

5. Young, Healthy People Are Not Immune to COVID-19

On April 29, 2021, Rogan addressed this controversy on his podcast and attempted to clarify a few of his comments. Rogan said that he shouldn’t be considered a respected source of information, and that he doesn’t often think about what he is going to say before he says it during his podcast (which, Rogan admits, is usually recorded while he’s drunk or high).

The podcast host also emphasized that he was “not an anti-vax person” and that there was a lot of “legitimate science” behind these vaccines. Rogan said that he was trying to suggest that young, healthy people had a lower risk of serious complications from COVID-19 (which is generally true but, again, young people are not immune from this disease) but that he agreed with the argument that young people should get vaccinated in order to prevent the disease from spreading to more vulnerable communities, even though he believes that this would be a “separate conversation.”

Here’s a partial transcript of Rogan’s comments. The full video can be seen at the bottom of this article:

“There’s some legitimate science behind [the vaccines]. The thing about this whole thing, people being upset with me, I didn’t say … I’m not an anti-vax person. In fact, I said I believe that they’re safe and I encourage many people to take them. My parents were vaccinated. I just don’t think that if you’re a young healthy person that you need it. There argument was you need it for other people. [Guest: So you don’t transmit the virus.] That makes more sense.

[…]

Here’s the thing. These are not like planned statements. Let’s be real clear. When I say something stupid, I’m not thinking about what I’m going to say before I say it. I’m just saying it. I don’t have an off-air and on-air voice. I have me. This is it … If you say you disagree with me, I probably disagree with me too. I disagree with me all the time. If someone said that young, healthy 21-year-old people who eat well and exercise are not at high risk for coronavirus but you should think about other people, I’d say well that’s a different argument, but yes, that makes sense. But I would say aren’t those people [the vulnerable] vaccinated and shouldn’t we vaccinate the vulnerable?

[…]

“I’m not a doctor, I’m a f*cking moron. I’m a cage fighting commentator who’s a dirty stand up comedian and I just told you I’m drunk most of the time and I do testosterone and I smoke a lot of weed. I’m not a respected source of information even for me… I at least try to be honest about what I’m saying.”