Joe Rogan records dozens of hours of freeform conversation per week, so there are bound to be inconsistencies. His tendency to take one position on an issue, only to change his mind in a later episode is only human and even admirable. But this magic 8 ball approach is alarming when speaking to his millions of listeners about the coronavirus vaccine, a critically necessary shot millions of people around the world will need to get if we ever want to end the pandemic.
Over the weekend, a few minutes before the conclusion of a 167-minute episode, fellow comedian Jamar Neighbors asked Rogan, "You taking that vaccine?"
"No! I would, if I felt like I needed it," Rogan said, clarifying it would be "good for some people."
This is quite different from what Rogan has previously said. In a November appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience last year, Dave Chappelle cut short a discussion about tuna overfishing to ask Rogan a blunt question. "The vaccine: are you taking it?"
"I'll take it if it works," Rogan told Chappelle. "If I feel that the doctors have all gotten their opinions behind it."
Rogan then explained to Chappelle the mechanism behind an mRNA [messenger RNA] vaccine, as detailed to him by Dr. Nickolas Christakis in a prior November episode. In Chappelle's episode, he said he'd return to Austin to do Rogan's podcast after Biden's inauguration. Chappelle was in Austin last month doing comedy shows—some of which Rogan co-headlined—but had to cut his run short after testing positive for COVID-19.
“There's an unfortunate narrative where people are saying, 'I'm not going to take a vaccine, because the human immune system is more effective than the vaccine,'" Rogan said to Christakis. At this point, Dr. Christakis stops Rogan to say this is not true, in a clip titled "The Safety & Efficacy of Potential COVID Vaccine" posted on Rogan's YouTube channel.
We are in precarious times where people continue to fall for depraved conspiracy theories like QAnon. Rogan gave early airspace to this theory, too, when recurring guest, Eddie Bravo, provided a 4-minute pitch on the conspiracy back in 2018. In another appearance on Rogan's podcast in March 2020, Bravo suggested the media was "running with" the coronavirus because it was "bad for Trump," to which Rogan disagreed, and said, "All these disease experts are trying to save millions of people from unnecessarily dying."
The U.S. government's response to the pandemic has been horrible in both its indecisive initial response and the current chaotic vaccine rollout. Black Americans aren't being vaccinated at the same rate as white Americans. Real medical atrocities have been committed against Black people, such as the Tuskegee experiments, which only concluded in 1972. But the data is clear: The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.
Rogan's reach is larger than most people on the planet, and his take on vaccines seems to vary with the weather, as experts continue to bang the drum of the importance of overcoming vaccine skepticism and hesitancy. When Alex Jones appeared on an October episode of Rogan's show, Rogan was uncharacteristically rigorous in attempting to fact-check Jones. In a follow-up Instagram post, Rogan wrote in part, "Now, I’m NOT anti vaccine, and if a safe and effective covid vaccine is created I’ll take it and encourage others to take it".
The National Basketball Association's leading scorer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, wrote a provocatively titled op-ed, "We Should Let Some NBA Players Jump the Vaccine Queue." Abdul-Jabbar made a case that high-profile celebrities, such as himself and fellow 73-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger, who meet the vaccine priority guidelines, should publicly get the vaccine, to establish trust in people who are otherwise skeptical. Rogan, in his previous Instagram post, seems to understand he can help in this regard as well, when he said he'd encourage others to take it.
Again, Rogan spends many hours a week talking into a microphone, and it's easy to find him saying contradictory things on multiple issues. Reputable epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, who is part of President Biden's COVID-19 advisory, appeared on The Joe Rogan Experience on March 10, 2020. It was an informative episode with over 15 million views. But Rogan has also given a lot of oxygen and positive PR to Alex Jones, whose website made dubious claims about the COVID vaccine being used to weaken healthcare workers.
The Rogan universe has epidemiologists like Osterholm on one end of the reliability spectrum, but it also has many on the other, like Eddie Bravo, Alex Jones, and weed alarmist Alex Berenson. Berenson appeared on The Joe Rogan Experience last year to claim that masks were ineffective, and that lockdowns don't work, and otherwise handwave about the country's "overreaction" to the pandemic, which now has a body count of 443,000 in the United States.
Another guest, Columbia University’s Dr. Carl Hart, who has called Berenson's assertions about the dangers of weed "misinformed and reckless," appeared on Rogan's show earlier this year. Providing oxygen to "both sides" is part of the appeal of the show, but treating medical facts, especially around vaccines, is just dangerous.
Per Rogan's own previous requirements, there are multiple effective vaccines, and doctors have largely emphasized the importance of getting the shot, so he should get it when he can and encourage his audience of millions to get it when they can. It's entirely possible Rogan will answer the vaccine question differently the next time it is presented to him. Rogan's platform is giant and influential; in terms of health and fitness alone, he's one of the key figures responsible for mainstreaming the ketogenic diet, kettlebells, and intermittent fasting. He can do the same for vaccines.