Editor’s Note: Dr. Jonathan Reiner is a CNN medical analyst and Professor of Medicine and Surgery at George Washington University. The views expressed in this commentary belong to the author. View more opinion at CNN.
At this point in the pandemic, if you’re not part of the solution, you might be part of the problem. This week, comedian and podcast host, Joe Rogan missed a huge opportunity to use his prominent platform to promote Covid-19 vaccination to a stubbornly hesitant young demographic. Instead, his musings made him part of the problem.
On “The Joe Rogan Experience”, released April 23, 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?”
Rogan’s comments come at a crucial point in the pandemic when more than 80% of Americans over the age of 65 have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, while just a third of people between 18 and 29 have received at least one dose.
Last year, Rogan reportedly signed a contract worth over $100 million with Spotify for exclusive rights to his podcast. Episodes of “The Joe Rogan Experience” are downloaded millions of times and the show has become the most popular podcast on the platform. The average age of Rogan’s listeners is 24, and 71% are male, according to Media Monitors.
Rogan continued, “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.”
While it’s true that most young Americans will survive a Covid-19 illness, the group is not without risk. Since the pandemic began more than a year ago, 2,374 people under the age of 30 have died because of coronavirus infection, a toll greater than the number of Americans killed in Afghanistan since 2001.
Covid-19 doesn’t have to kill you to wreck your life. A recent study of “long-haulers” published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that more than 10% of health care workers recovering from relatively mild Covid-19 infections were still experiencing significant symptoms, such as loss of taste or smell, fatigue and breathing problems, eight months later.
But perhaps the most compelling reason to vaccinate young people is that according to a study from the Imperial College London, Americans between 20 and 49 years old were responsible for around 70% of the spread of Covid-19 last year. Studies from Israel have shown that vaccination is highly effective at preventing not just illness, but also asymptomatic spread.
While large numbers of older people are effectively immune from infection, the reservoir for this virus in the United States is young, unvaccinated Americans. Vaccinating the young will drain that reservoir.
Joe Rogan has a loud and influential voice, and the ear of millions of young Americans. As we try to put an end to the pandemic, he can be an important part of the solution. Words matter. I hope the next time Rogan weighs in on science he considers his own more carefully.