When CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta sat down for a three-hour conversation on “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast, the chief topic was Covid-19.
Gupta and Rogan – whose views often were at odds – discussed the pandemic, vaccines, potential therapeutics and the risk coronavirus poses to children and young people, among many other subjects.
Here are four key moments from the conversation between Gupta, author of the new book “World War C: Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic and How to Prepare for the Next One,” and Rogan, one of the world’s most influential podcast hosts.
Rogan agrees a lot of ‘vulnerable people’ should get vaccinated
Rogan, who is not vaccinated against Covid-19, has previously expressed skepticism that young, healthy people should get the shot. But in his conversation with Gupta, Rogan agreed that certain people who are vulnerable to the virus should get inoculated against Covid-19, particularly those who are obese or elderly.
“That’s half the country, probably more, when you talk about obesity and diabetes and the other comorbidities that are associated with this,” Gupta said. “You’re talking about hundreds of millions of people. … Doesn’t that make the case that we need to vaccinate?”
“I think it makes a good case to vaccinate vulnerable people, and that includes obese people,” Rogan said.
Rogan announced last month he had tested positive for Covid-19, but when asked if he wished he were vaccinated before he tested positive, Rogan said no, adding he got over the virus “pretty quickly.”
“My thought was, I’m a healthy person, I exercise constantly, I’m always taking vitamins. I take care of myself. I felt like I was going to be OK. And that was true, it was correct. I’m happy I got through it. I don’t wish it upon anyone. It wasn’t fun, but it wasn’t the worst cold I’ve ever had, and I got over it fairly quickly, relatively speaking.”
But, Rogan added, “I’m not recommending anybody get infected.”
“So, they should get vaccinated,” Gupta said.
“I think a lot of people should get vaccinated,” Rogan said.
Gupta explains why Covid-19 is still a serious disease for children
The pair also discussed the risk posed to children by either Covid-19 or the vaccines.
Rogan asked Gupta what studies show about the impact of coronavirus on young children, to which Gupta replied, “We know that they’re far less likely to get sick, that’s for sure.”
But just because children are less likely to be hospitalized or die from Covid-19 doesn’t mean the virus doesn’t pose a threat to them, even if they are young and otherwise healthy, Gupta explained. He pointed to cases of long-haul Covid-19, in which people report suffering symptoms for months after infection.
Rogan expressed concern over the small number of cases of myocarditis – an inflammation of the heart muscle – in young people after they had received a Covid-19 vaccine.
The mRNA Covid-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna have been linked to rare cases of myocarditis and pericarditis. Warnings were added to the vaccines’ fact sheets; studies have shown the cases are typically mild. Almost all of the cases occurred in young people ages 16 to 24.
“That’s terrifying for parents,” Rogan said, “the idea that your son could get vaccinated – and most likely he would have been fine if he got Covid – and that your son could catch myocarditis and have permanent heart problems.”
“Well, I don’t know that we can say a person would be fine if they get Covid, Joe,” Gupta said. “When you say fine, you mean what? That they’re not going to die?”
“I mean like me,” Rogan said. “I had Covid, I’m fine.”
“You look like you’re as strong as an ox, yes, I’ll give you that,” Gupta said. “But you get teenagers who will have these long Covid naps … They’re tired all the time. They get these sort of long-hauler type symptoms. Less so in kids, but when you talk about 33% of people having persistent symptoms that last months – I think we’re allowed to have a nuanced conversation about this.
“We measure things in terms of life and death, and I get that, it’s easy, it’s public health, that’s the way the numbers get presented. And frankly, that’s probably our fault as well in the media, to just say this is how many people have died.”
But Gupta later added, “We don’t know a lot about what this virus does to the body. We probably shouldn’t just think of it as another type of pneumonia or cold, because it’s clearly doing something else. A cold wouldn’t cause just isolated loss of smell. Flu wouldn’t even do that. And there’s so many people developing long-term symptoms.”
A new antiviral treatment wouldn’t change Gupta’s mind on vaccines
Rogan asked Gupta about his thoughts on Covid-19 therapeutics, specifically a new drug by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics that would be the first oral antiviral treatment to fight Covid-19.
Merck said Monday it was seeking US Food and Drug Administration emergency use authorization for the treatment, molnupiravir, which comes in a capsule. The FDA said this week it will convene an advisory committee in late November to discuss it.
While Gupta said he needs to remain skeptical before seeing all the data, the doctor said, “If this medication holds up, you know, they review (the data) and it’s true. I think it’s, it’s pretty significant. It reminds you a little bit of, like, Tamiflu … but this would even be potentially more effective than Tamiflu is for the flu.”
Merck’s submission to the FDA was based on a study stopped early because the drug was working so well in more than 700 patients randomly assigned to take either molnupiravir or a placebo. In a statement, Merck said the interim analysis indicated molnupiravir reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by about 50%.
Rogan asked Gupta, “Would you change your perspective on vaccines if that turned out to be very effective?”
“I still don’t want this disease, Joe,” Gupta said. “I just don’t want it, I don’t know what the heck this virus does to the body. I’m not saying it to scare you because, like I said, most people are gonna be fine.”
Rogan reveals he ‘almost’ got vaccinated
Rogan also described how he almost got a Covid-19 vaccine before an Ultimate Fighting Championship match earlier this year in Las Vegas. Rogan is a UFC commentator.
“I almost got it,” Rogan said. “The UFC had allocated a bunch of doses for all of their employees, and I came down on Friday and I said, ‘Hey, can I get vaccinated?’ And they said yes, let’s set it up.
“Right before the event started, they said, ‘You’re going to have to come to the hospital. Can you come on Monday?’” Rogan said. “And I said, ‘I can’t be here Monday.’ I said, ‘I have a previous obligation,’ I said, ‘but I’ll be back in two weeks, let’s do it in two weeks, I’ll come in a day early.’ And they said great.”
But in the meantime, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine got “pulled,” Rogan said, referring to a moment in April when the FDA recommended the US pause administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine over a small number of reported cases of a “rare and severe” type of blood clot. The recommendation was lifted 10 days later, and a warning about the rare clotting syndrome was added to the vaccine’s label.
Rogan also described two other people he said had adverse reactions after vaccination. As a result, “I got nervous about it,” he said.
Experts say the risks posed by Covid-19 infection far outweigh the risk of getting vaccinated, and adverse reactions to vaccination remain rare.
Additionally, Rogan said he was nervous that some adverse reactions appeared to be underreported in the CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System – a voluntary database where health care providers and the public can submit reports of adverse events after vaccination. (The CDC notes VAERS reports may be incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental and unverifiable and may be subject to biases.)
“So, I’m like, how many people have had adverse reactions that were submitted versus not submitted?” Rogan said. “And I do know that some of the people that submit things to the VAERS report, they’re not telling the truth, they’re making things up. There’s a lot of, you know – whenever you have, like, an open forum like that you’re going to get a lot of bullsh*t right? So who knows how much of it is true and how much of it is not.”