Joe Rogan does nothing to correct Aaron Rodgers as he trumpets COVID-19 misinformation

Public health experts horrified as the Packers quarterback repeats COVID misinformation on Rogan's popular podcast

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published August 30, 2022 5:44PM (EDT)

Aaron Rodgers and Joe Rogan (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Aaron Rodgers and Joe Rogan (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

The medical community has a message for Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers: When it comes to vaccines and treatment regimens, he has no idea what he's talking about.

Ever since Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19 in November, he has repeatedly expressed anti-vaccine views — while also repeatedly claiming, as he did during an appearance on comedian Joe Rogan's popular podcast on Saturday, that he "never wanted to be a divisive, polarizing figure."

"No one wanted to hear there was a way that you could get through it without being vaccinated and that you would recover very quickly," Rogan affirmed.

In that same interview, Rodgers reiterated his longstanding approval of Joe Rogan's pseudoscientific COVID-19 treatment regimen — which includes taking drugs like ivermectin, which has been shown to have no effect, or even deleterious effects, when taken to treat COVID-19. Rogan has also had guests on his show promoting hydroxychloroquine, another drug shown to have no effect on COVID-19. 

Rodgers previously described his Rogan-recommended regimen, as Insider reported:

"I've been doing a lot of the stuff that he [Rogan] recommended, in his podcasts and on the phone to me," Rodgers said. "I've been taking monoclonal antibodies, ivermectin, zinc, vitamin C, D, and HCQ [hydroxychloroquine]… And I feel pretty incredible."

Rodgers claimed that the former "The Man Show" host's "game plan" helped him after he became sick with the oft-fatal disease. Rogan nodded in agreement as Rodgers described his experience. 

"No one wanted to hear there was a way that you could get through it without being vaccinated and that you would recover very quickly," Rogan affirmed.

Rodgers also criticized the pandemic policies being implemented by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, complaining that the government closed beaches near Rodgers' home in Malibu, and joking about a paddleboarder who was arrested for violating the stay-at-home order.

"He's passing COVID to the dolphins or what?" Rodgers asked.

Salon reached out to a number of health experts, all of whom were horrified at Rodgers' approval of pseudoscientific COVID-19 treatments like hydroxychloroquine and the horse de-wormer ivermectin.

"Hydroxychloroquine has been studied in several large randomized controlled clinical trials and has not shown to be of any benefit (compared to placebo) among patients with COVID-19, either in those who are hospitalized or in preventing hospitalizations among outpatients with COVID-19," Dr. Monica Gandhi, infectious disease doctor and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told Salon by email. "In fact, these studies showed a higher risk of mild adverse events in those who received hydroxychloroquine."

Gandhi was similarly emphatic about ivermectin's inability to treat COVID-19.

"Ivermectin has also not shown to be of any benefit in improving outcomes among patients with COVID-19, either in the hospitalized or outpatient setting in terms of reducing symptoms," Gandhi explained. "Therefore, although Mr. Rogan reports improvement in his symptoms, this may have happened anyway and neither drug has met the level of evidence needed in medicine to be recommended."

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Gandhi's views were echoed by Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

"The preponderance of the scientific evidence shows that neither drug [hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin] has any clinical benefit in the treatment of COVID-19 and is not recommended as a treatment," Benjamin wrote to Salon. "We know that the untreated clinical course for people with COVID can range from asymptomatic to severe disease. The time period he describes for his symptoms is consistent with a mild case of COVID that resolved on its own."

When it comes to Rodgers' claim that Rogan's "game plan" helped him, Benjamin pointed out that in scientific reasoning "correlation is not causation. So while we are all glad he is better, there is no evidence that it was the hydroxychloroquine or the ivermectin that he took helped him."

The experts were also scathing towards Rodgers' claim that he had not misled people by telling people that he had been "immunized" instead of specifically saying whether or not he had been "vaccinated." Indeed, previously, Rodgers made headlines in 2021 when it came to light that despite claiming that he had been "immunized," the quarterback actually had taken a homeopathic treatment from his personal physician. 

Speaking to Rogan, Rodgers said that the burden fell on the journalists to ask follow up questions about what he meant when he said he had been "immunized." Dr. Irwin Redlener, leader of Columbia University's Pandemic Response Initiative, told Salon that Rodgers was "full of s**t."

[Ahmed] noted that giving any credit to drugs like ivermectin is "like him saying, 'Well, someone said you should take Jell-O to solve COVID. Oh, yeah, I took everything else too, but I think the Jell-O is what fixed it.' That's how ridiculous this whole situation is."

"He has already discredited his own self by misrepresenting his vaccination status, which is incredibly irresponsible and endangered his teammates and people that he came in contact with," Redlener said.

Although he expressed respect for Rodgers' "extremely admirable statements on equality and racism and opportunity, and for that I really do respect him," Redlener pointed out that the quarterback has "zero credibility as a medical prescriber."

"It's absurd and irresponsible for him to be pronouncing what he did for himself. There are plenty of people who get mildly ill and then just get better from it. I know hundreds of people who that has happened to. An individual anecdote doesn't mean anything," Redlener said.

Not only does Rodgers' individual experience fail to vindicate the Rogan "game plan," as the quarterback claimed. Considering that Rodgers displayed symptoms when he contracted COVID, it is entirely possible that his illness experience was worse because he refused to get vaccinated. Indeed, as many as 40 percent of COVID-19 cases are believed to be asymptomatic; having an asymptomatic or mild case is much more likely if someone is vaccinated.

"Any 'plan' will work when you are an athletic 36-year-old," Dr. Alfred Sommer, dean emeritus and professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Salon by email. "In fact, he was sicker than most 36-year-olds, who are usually totally asymptomatic! He took two (or more) drugs for which there is no evidence of benefit whatsoever – except that Trump (a recognized medical wizard who was hospitalized with COVID and certainly not given either of these treatments) recommended them. I don't know why he didn't follow Trump's other advice: drink bleach and shove a light stick up your rectum."

Medical experts are not alone in being alarmed by Rodgers' comments. Salon also reached out to the anti-misinformation group Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), who previously determined that a mere twelve online influencers were responsible for two-thirds of vaccine-related misinformation online.

"Aaron Rodgers has a significant following, many of whom hang on his every word and will no doubt be influenced by what he says," Imran Ahmed, CEO of CCDH, told Salon. Describing Rodgers as a "muppet" (a British slang term for a stupid person), Ahmed noted that Rodgers' observations betray a seeming obliviousness to his own economically privileged situation.

"He did receive the full NFL treatment regimen," Ahmed pointed out. "The guy received monoclonal antibodies. I didn't get those. Very few people got those. He received cutting edge therapies from scientists." Ahmed noted that giving any credit to drugs like ivermectin is "like him saying, 'Well, someone said you should take Jell-O to solve COVID. Oh, yeah, I took everything else too, but I think the Jell-O is what fixed it.' That's how ridiculous this whole situation is."

In addition to being concerned about Rodgers spreading inaccurate medical information to millions of people, Ahmed singled out "one of the super spreaders of misinformation about vaccines."

"Spotify and Rogan have made an enormous amount of money due to the controversy associated with it," Ahmed observed. Indeed, in 2020, music streaming company Spotify paid a reported $200 million to license Joe Rogan's podcast exclusively on its service.

"It is worrying how misaligned the incentives are," Ahmed continued, "Actually, it is to their advantage to spread [misinformation]. There is no means of recourse for those who may be harmed by the words spoken by Rogan and Rodgers, and broadcast on Spotify, for any harm that might be caused as a result."

Health experts were not wholly critical of Rodgers. Gandhi told Salon that she believed Rodgers made valid points when criticizing Governor Newsom's COVID-19 policies.

"I agree with their comments here that the strict policies of California and its many restrictions were not always effective," Gandhi explained. "In fact, closing the outside (whether outside dining or beaches) is not considered an effective strategy for this virus since ventilation is very effective for combatting COVID-19 and closing the outside can actually drive the public indoors." She pointed out that a 2020 study in Wuhan, China found that only a single infection event out of 7,324 that had been investigated could be linked to outdoor transmission.

"In another analysis of over 232,000 infections in Ireland, only one case of COVID-19 in every thousand was traced to outdoor transmission," Gandhi told Salon. That study, which involved the University of Canterbury, concluded that outdoor transmission was "rare," noting that "viral particles disperse effectively in the outside air."

As such, Gandhi wrote that "I agree with Mr. Rogan and Mr. Rodgers discussion points on California closing outside dining and beaches." Yet Gandhi expressed disapproval of Rodgers' spreading vaccine misinformation.

"I am concerned about that, particularly when it comes Mr. Rodgers choice not to get vaccinated," Gandhi explained. "The COVID vaccines are very effective in preventing severe disease and death. Even with omicron [variant], recent data from JAMA shows a very strong protective effect of a single booster against severe disease with BA.1 and BA.2 that continues to demonstrate the powerful cellular immunity (T and B cells) triggered by the vaccines. Therefore, I am concerned that this sports star may be influential in discouraging vaccination."

Unlike Gandhi, Redlener told Salon that "the jury is still out" about Newsom's policies, although "I think that California's done really quite well."

"Generally speaking, what specific thing makes a difference?" Redlener asked. "I think personally that mask-wearing is highly effective, and it has been proven highly effective. I think he was making the best political judgment about protecting the safety and health of residents of California that he could possibly make. It was based on what he was hearing from the CDC, and what scientists were saying."

"At the end of the day, though, I think people are agreed that mask-wearing and distancing when the disease was raging were all very appropriate," Redlener continued. "I am most respectful of governors anywhere, of city officials that are saying, 'Okay, what do we actually know? What's the CDC say? What is the data showing? And I'm going to try my best to make policies that reflect the current state's knowledge.' That's pretty much all we've got. And as far as Gavin Newsom, his specific policies, I totally respect them and I think they're fine."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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