For the same reasons that the busiest bodies on the left despise Substack and other platforms for independent content producers — envy of financial success and of more interesting people, fear of the wrong zany ideas (the kind not welcome on the New York Times opinion page or Joy Reid’s cable show) — they now would like to make a villain out of comedian, Ultimate Fighting Championship commentator, and podcasting pioneer Joe Rogan. Recall that many of them demanded that Bernie Sanders disavow Rogan, who in his various capacities has made the kind of bad controversial comments that render him unwelcome in certain kinds of liberal circles, after he endorsed the Vermont senator during the 2020 presidential cycle.
We should keep in mind this latent anger at Rogan when considering the reaction to his very, aggressively, incontrovertibly wrong comments on the coronavirus vaccines. He said the following:
People say, “Do you think it’s safe to get vaccinated?” I’ve said, “Yeah for the most part I think 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 go, “No. Are you healthy? Are you a healthy person?” Like look, don’t do anything stupid, but you should take care of yourself. If you’re a healthy person and you’re exercising all the time and you’re young, and you’re eating well, I don’t think you need to worry about this.
Rogan went on to discuss parents’ being worried about vaccine mandates for their younger children. This is, of course, not a totally unreasonable concern. The vaccines have not been approved for children, and if universities are any indication, vaccination could become compulsory in schools sometime in the future. Parents’ opposing the theoretical mandatory vaccination of their children is righteous. But such a mandate is, at this moment, just that: theoretical. The government has not foisted vaccines on children. Nor has it shown any indication of planning to do so.
And on the central issue of vaccination and young adults, Rogan is simply mistaken. Not only does he fail to consider the important public-health risks associated with large numbers of young people opting not to be vaccinated, but his risk assessments for young people vis-à-vis the virus and vaccine are also faulty — and wildly so.
If young people do not inoculate themselves in large numbers, the virus will continue to spread among both the young and older, more vulnerable unvaccinated populations. The first-order consequences are serious enough; many in this latter group will die and some youngsters — most of whom Rogan is right to say are not at risk of dying — could suffer long-term effects from the disease that we do not yet fully grasp. Moreover, the longer the disease retains a significant foothold in the population, the more variants will develop. While the vaccines have been remarkably effective at combating many of the variants that have developed to this point, there’s no guarantee that they will be as successful in the future.
But even if we were to consider the question of whether young people should get vaccinated based only on their chances of dying, any examination of the available data would lead to the conclusion that the answer is “yes.” According to the most recent CDC data, 2,097 Americans in the 18–29 age group have passed away with COVID as at least a contributing factor in their death. In the 30–39 bracket, that number rises to 6,089. For Americans in their 40s, it’s 16,507.
Now, these are not especially scary counts, and if you’ve been listening to only the shrillest of alarmists in the media over the last year, you might be shocked by how low they are. But even so, they still represent a threat that is orders of magnitude higher than that which is supposedly posed by the vaccines. The CDC halted distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine two weeks ago after only a few instances of severe blood-clotting within a very specific demographic were linked to it. Pfizer and Moderna have had basically no problems linked to their vaccines save for the rare allergic reaction. So Rogan’s thesis fails even on its own terms.
Joe Rogan was irresponsible and careless, and he deserves to be critiqued for it. The man has an enormous platform. To use it to mislead, even unintentionally, during a pandemic is to endanger lives. We should nevertheless be careful in how we go about correcting him.
Rogan is not an expert, and he doesn’t profess to be one. In many ways, he’s a stand-in for your average American: curious, opinionated, skeptical, and a little bit crazy. That’s why so many people like him. It may not be the wisest approach to have the oft-wrong experts blast him or get carried away in a pre-made mob that already wanted so very badly to see him destroyed. Many will see themselves as well as Rogan as the subjects of such ire.
So much of the rhetoric of vaccine advocates has been pedantic and angry. White House communications director Kate Bedingfield kept it up by responding to Rogan like this:
I guess my first question would be, did Joe Rogan become a medical doctor while we weren’t looking? I’m not sure that taking scientific and medical advice from Joe Rogan is perhaps the most productive way for people to get their information.
If less vaccine skepticism is the ultimate aim, we’ll need fewer ad hominem arguments from authority as well as fewer ignorant Rogan-esque riffs.