Unfortunately, we’re part of a culture where the things that famous people say have power and influence, even when it’s abundantly clear they have no idea what they’re talking about. I’m referring, of course, to the vaccine skepticism Rogan has voiced multiple times on his extremely successful podcast The Joe Rogan Experience. Most recently, Rogan and his guest, comedian Dave Smith, took a few minutes on an episode released April 23 to advise young people against getting the COVID-19 vaccine, with Rogan claiming that he’d tell a healthy 21-year-old “Hell no!” if one asked him whether or not they needed it.
“Yeah, I think for the most part it’s safe to get vaccinated, I do, I do,” Rogan said. “But if you’re like 21 years old and you say to me, ‘Should I get vaccinated?’ I’d go ‘No! Are - are you healthy? Are you a healthy person?’ 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 notably wasn’t above “worrying about this” when he briefly shut down the production of his podcast in October 2020 after producer and co-host Jamie Vernon tested positive for the virus.)
Rogan also detailed his own children’s experience with COVID-19: “I can tell you as someone—both my children got the virus. It was nothing! I hate to say that, if someone’s children died from this, I’m very sorry that that happened. I’m not in any way diminishing that. But, I’m saying, the personal experience that my children had with COVID was nothing. One of my kids had a headache, the other one didn’t feel good for a couple days—I mean not feel good like, no big deal! No coughing, no aching, no agony—there was nothing like that, it was very mild. It was akin to them getting a cold.”
Guest Smith went on to describe people getting vaccinated as a “theatrical display” and added: “I’m not injecting my daughter with something to fucking virtue signal. I’m not doing that.”
This footage is flat-out depressing, because we know that so-called “healthy 21-year-olds,” even the ones who eat right and exercise, can very much contract COVID-19—hence the slew of outbreaks that shut down any college campuses that dared to reopen in the summer and fall of 2020. We also know that anecdotal evidence, like the details Rogan presents about his kids’ COVID experiences, attempts to bolster the incorrect but oft-repeated stat that “99 percent of people survive COVID-19”—that death is the only thing worth worrying about, despite studies underway on COVID-19’s potentially devastating long term effects, and that this pandemic has some kind of acceptable death toll.
More critically, this armchair health advice doesn’t just affect his own listeners, especially when it comes to a virus that is, as we speak, evolving to become more contagious thanks in part to lax COVID regulations that create rampant opportunities to infect people. If someone (let’s say a man) opts not to get vaccinated because he heard a muscular guy and a libertarian comedian say it was fine on a podcast, that decision isn’t just about him; it’s also about his family, the people he lives with, and the people he sees in his daily life, a fact that Rogan’s vaccination thesis does not deal with whatsoever.
This isn’t the first time that Rogan, whose net worth is at least tens of millions of dollars, has encouraged his listeners, who are likely less resourced than he is, to roll the dice with their health when it comes to COVID. In September 2020, Rogan apologized for spreading the conspiracy theory that the virus “comes out of a lab in Wuhan” on The Joe Rogan Experience, and in January 2021, he stated in another episode of the podcast that he didn’t plan on getting vaccinated—citing his generally healthy lifestyle as the reason. VICE reached out to Spotify for comment on Rogan’s latest entry into his COVID-skeptic canon, and will update this piece if a response is forthcoming.
Rogan is also beaming out this messaging from the place on the planet where vaccines are most available, while the rates here are stalling due to lack of participation, and not, as is the case in most of the rest of the world, because of availability. If Rogan wanted to take a genuinely edgy, anti-establishment stance, he could try using his platform to excoriate the powers that be for gatekeeping vaccine patents so that approximately 12 extremely rich people continue to get even richer. But what do I know! I don’t even have a podcast.
Correction: This story originally said Dave Smith is a Republican. He actually identifies as a libertarian. We regret the error.