Vaccine misinformation is back in the headlines.
Last week, rock legend Neil Young demanded that Spotify pull his music from the streaming platform in protest of the misinformation about vaccines being spread by mega-podcaster Joe Rogan.
That came just weeks after 270 doctors and public health experts demanded Spotify take action to address COVID misinformation on the platform.
One of those calling out Spotify is Dr. Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Styling herself as “Dr. Kat” on social media, Wallace has made it her mission to combat potentially deadly fallacies about COVID-19 vaccines.
Wallace says one of the biggest problems with Rogan’s vaccine falsehoods is that his show – “The Joe Rogan Experience” – has enormous reach.
“He has a very large platform of 11 million viewers. And the problem with this is that when he brings on these contrarian doctors who are vaccine skeptics … it leads to sort of a false balance where it looks like there’s two sides to the scientific data when in reality there’s not,” says Wallace. “There’s the overwhelming evidence that shows that the vaccines are safe and effective. And if you’re fully vaccinated, you’re 15 times less likely to die from COVID than if you’re unvaccinated. So when he has these doctors on his podcast saying these contrarian views … it’s a public health hazard.”
On Sunday, Rogan addressed the controversy on Instagram.
“I’m not a doctor. I’m not a scientist. I’m just a person that talks to people and sits down and has conversations with them,” said Rogan. “I’m not trying to promote misinformation, I’m not trying to be controversial.”
But Rogan did concede that he needed a better balance of experts on his show.
“If there is anything that I’ve done that I could do better it’s to have more experts with different opinions right after I have the controversial ones,” said Rogan.
Rogan also made a point of apologizing to Spotify – the company reportedly paid $100 million for the rights to exclusively stream “The Joe Rogan Experience” – and thanking them for their support amid the controversy.
Meanwhile, Spotify has adopted the “Facebook defense,” claiming they are simply a platform and do not want to get involved in censoring content
Wallace said that argument was weak.
“It isn’t censorship to label something as misinformation that has been researched and proven to be false,” said Wallace.
On Sunday, Spotify released a statement saying that it would “add a content advisory to any podcast episode that includes a discussion about COVID-19. This advisory will direct listeners to our dedicated COVID-19 Hub.”
But Wallace was unimpressed with the announced change of policy.
“Their idea of slapping a content advisory on every COVID-19 piece of information just because it says COVID-19 is not really doing anything,” said Wallace, who added that it continues to create a “false balance” between peer-reviewed science and conspiracy theorists.
As infections caused by the omicron variant of COVID-19 appear to have peaked, Wallace said that it is unlikely to be the last wave of the virus because so many people, both in the United States and around the world remain unvaccinated.
“Until we actually have vaccine equity all around the world and we don’t have large unvaccinated reservoirs in the population, we’re going to have mutations and we’re going to have more waves. That’s a fact,” said Wallace. “And until we do that, it’s going to be just like fighting a house fire just in the bedrooms upstairs while allowing the fire to burn downstairs. It’s not going to fix anything just by vaccinating certain parts of the globe. So that’s a problem that needs to be addressed urgently.”