On December 15th, popular podcaster and conspiracy spreader Joe Rogan provided a platform to fired and disgraced cardiologist Peter A. McCullough. The interview between the two lasted for almost 3 hours and can be found on the Joe Rogan Experience (JRE) podcast's website as well as on Spotify.
This is going to be part 1 of 2 parts, with this first part discussing more of the issues with the scientific and medical claims. The second part will be discussing more of the conspiracy theory claims. These include claims such as an alleged purposeful suppression of Hydroxychloroquine, how and why governments are pushing vaccines and not treatment, and many other dubious and unsupported claims.
So what exactly was said in this interview, and why are so many people discussing it? Well, we will look at the interview ourselves and find out. But first, some background.
Who is Peter McCullough?
Peter McCullough is a distinguished cardiologist who is well known for his link between the heart and the kidney. He is apparently very good when it comes to this field of work, but since the pandemic started in early 2020, he has been promoting unfounded conspiracy theories about COVID-19.
It is important to note that McCullough is a trained cardiologist, not an epidemiologist or virologist. He also is neither an ER doctor nor a general practitioner; and thus, he is not a doctor on the front lines of the pandemic. So when he makes claims such as, "Nobody under the age of 50 needs to get the vaccine", understand that he is not an expert in that field and is talking out of his rear end.
Many people have claimed him to be an expert on COVID-19, an epidemiologist, or even a virologist. No. He has as much training and expertise in those fields as I do, your local high school History teacher, or even Aunt Joan down the road who believes COVID-19 can be prevented through "positive energy" along with some bloodstones and amethyst. In other words, he is not an expert.
McCullough was sued in August by his former employer as he kept using them in his title when spreading misinformation. His former employer, Baylor Scott & White Health, fired him 6 months prior for spreading misinformation about COVID-19, and during those 6 months McCullough would still claim that he was "vice chief of internal medicine at Baylor University Medical Center". He now advocates for conspiracy theories related to Covid-19 vaccines and promotes conspiracy think tanks such as the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons.
What is the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS)?
In September, I wrote an article detailing a politically motivated astroturf group that spread conspiracy theories known as American Frontline Doctors. If you think that group is a bit off their rocker, you will probably conclude that AAPS is not playing with a full deck of cards either.
And speaking of American Frontline Doctors, the AAPS shares some members with them, such as Stella "demon sperm" Immanuel and Simone "horse dewormer cures COVID-19" Gold.
I otherwise would not talk about this group at all, as they do not deserve any extra attention. However, McCullough brings them up just 6 minutes into the 165-minute interview. McCullough claims that the AAPS sued the FDA to release Hydroxychloroquine, which is itself not inaccurate. He just doesn't tell you the case was dismissed for lack of evidence and standing. And it wasn't the first time.
McCullough claims that the AAPS consists of "independent doctors," but that is far from the truth. A quick glance at their Wikipedia page shows they are a conservative organization that has been well known for spreading dangerous misinformation.
A small example of the misinformation they are either spreading now or has spread in the past includes:
Claiming that autism is caused by vaccines
Denying that climate change is caused by human activity
Claiming that "the gay male lifestyle" causes a reduced life expectancy of up to 20 years
Claiming that "humanists" are replacing the "creation religion of Jehovah" with the theory of evolution.
Claiming that hydroxychloroquine treats COVID-19 sufferers when there is no evidence it helps at all.
Asserting that then running presidential nominee Barrack Obama was using hypnosis on crowds of people to sway voters
Sharing a doctored image of Obama as a stereotypical African witch doctor.
So, needless to say, this group is just full of nonsense, and nothing they say should be taken seriously. They have zero credibility.
COVID-19 medical misinformation
I am not going to go into how hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin are ineffective when it comes to treating COVID-19, I already did that. I also will not write paragraphs about how the COVID-19 vaccines are effective and safe, as I have done that too.
McCullough claims that many people have died and had adverse effects as a result of the vaccine as if that is a reason to be wary of the vaccine. That comparison of risk from vaccines vs getting COVID-19 is not logical to make. Statistics show that you are over 850 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than you are to die via the vaccine, and evidence suggests this number is actually far higher, as these statistics are based on VAER data, which does not show causal links between vaccines and death that come sometime afterwards.
The issue with myocarditis
McCullough claims about an hour and a half in: "We've had 146,000,000 people who've had the respiratory infection, less than 1% has died." McCullough seems to be purposefully ignoring the 57% chance of having to deal with potentially debilitating long-COVID symptoms for weeks to years after recovery. He goes from this downplaying of the deaths via COVID-19 to talking about myocarditis in some kids who received the vaccine.
He talks about myocarditis as if the risk of death from COVID-19 is equal to this risk of harm caused by myocarditis received from vaccines. McCullough mentions this concerning boys under 18 years old. Evidence does show that men aged 16-29 had the highest chance of developing myocarditis after vaccination, at about 11 cases per 100,000 people vaccinated, or a 0.01% chance.
This has caused some researchers concern due to the potential risk involved. However, it is important to note that men who caught a COVID-19 infection had a 0.2% risk of developing myocarditis. That is a 20 times increased risk of heart inflammation due to getting an infection as opposed to getting the vaccine.
Multiple studies have been done on cases of myocarditis following COVID-19 vaccination. Almost all of them were fairly mild, went away on their own, and caused no long-term effects. Again, compare this to the 57% chance of having to deal with potentially debilitating symptoms for weeks to years after recovery from a COVID-19 infection.
Despite this, McCullough implies the rate of myocarditis among children has spiked from 600 to 13,000 as a result of vaccination. This is ignoring the mountains of evidence showing the link between a COVID-19 infection and myocarditis. For instance, the American Academy of Pediatrics claims that kids with a COVID infection are 37 times more likely to get myocarditis.
That would easily explain such a jump in the numbers without having to resort to an unfounded conspiracy.
Why more focus wasn't put on obesity
One of the criticisms that McCullough has is that people who suffer from obesity have more serious symptoms when it comes to COVID. For instance, when talking about obesity and COVID-19, and how the risk of COVID is "clearly scalable" with BMI, Joe Rogan states: "So that's something that should have been discussed publicly along with the drugs, along with the possible early treatment options."
McCullough then agrees with this assertion. This shows me that McCullough is claiming that the CDC and WHO should have told people to lose weight as potential prophylaxis for COVID-19. But the issue with this mindset is tenfold.
Not only is there no evidence that losing weight would automatically make you less likely to contract a serious case of COVID-19, but spreading the belief that it can is reckless. This kind of news can get people to engage in dangerous practices like anorexia, bulimia, juice fasting, water fasting, and more to lose weight.
On top of this, such fear could increase discrimination against overweight people, such as people accusing overweight people suffering from COVID as "bringing it on themselves", or seeing overweight people as a potential reason why the virus is still spreading. Discrimination like this causes a variety of mental issues such as stress, depression, anxiety, and lower quality of life. This can then result in more physical health problems, such as joint problems, diabetes, etc as a result of weight gain and fluctuating weight. On top of this, evidence shows that for those who are overweight, significant long-term and sustained weight loss over time was extremely rare.
On average, diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes have resulted in an average sustained weight loss of about 3-5 pounds, even with drug-based intervention. Some may even gain the weight back and then more over time. Studies also show that only about 20% of obese people trying to lose weight can maintain a weight loss of 10% or more over 12 months. So promoting weight loss as a prevention strategy for a virus does not seem to be significantly effective. The sustained weight loss is so minimal, the amount of time to lose weight is very long. Meanwhile, viruses attack quickly, and the potential harms this approach don't seem to have very many merits, as shown below.
On top of this is the issue is cytokines. Cytokines are proteins that can be produced in many cells, including fat cells, and are produced during an immune response. COVID-19 has been shown to cause a massive immune response in obese people due to the larger number of fat cells in their bodies.
The issue that I see in solving this issue through weight loss is that fat cells are easy to produce but they don't go away, even if someone loses weight, fat cells only decrease in size. So you have the same number of fat cells after losing weight that you did while at a heavier weight. There is no data to date showing that losing weight would reduce one's cytokine immune response.
While eating healthy and exercising is always recommended, losing weight is not a treatment or preventative measure for COVID-19. On this front, the most evidence-based preventative measure might be to just not gain weight in the first place.
Can COVID strike the same place twice?
"If you could get COVID-19 twice, we would have seen hundreds of millions of cases. Do you know how susceptible the elderly are? This would have swept through their nursing homes over and over again. We would have seen grandmothers on the ventilator 16 times. I'm telling you right now, you can't get it twice. The criteria are the reason why the CDC says it can't happen." McCullough, 54 minutes into the interview.
Meanwhile, according to the CDC back in August:
"Based on what we know from similar viruses, some reinfections are expected."
A study posted by the CDC in the same month in Kentucky alone shows 246 COVID-19 reinfections, which is itself higher than the only "100 purported cases like this in the literature." that well-educated cardiologist Dr. McCullough claims.
Plus, to add another nail in McCullough's professional coffin, that same study by the CDC linked above claims:
"These findings suggest that among persons with previous SARS-CoV-2 infection, full vaccination provides additional protection against reinfection. Among previously infected Kentucky residents, those who were not vaccinated were more than twice as likely to be reinfected compared with those with full vaccination. All eligible persons should be offered vaccination, including those with previous SARS-CoV-2 infection, to reduce their risk for future infection."
His claims that nursing homes are not being swamped are also incorrect. That is one of the reasons why nursing homes are currently scrambling to dish out booster shots and limiting family visits. The current Omicron variant is likely far more contagious, and probably more likely to cause reinfection. However, we do not have exact data on how contagious the Omicron variant is. Due to this, it is best to do what we can to prevent a lot of elderly people from dying.
Also, according to Yale University:
"2.6% of residents in Connecticut’s 212 nursing homes had one or more repeat positive SARS-CoV-2 PCR tests occurring as early as 90 days after an initial positive test. This percentage was significantly higher than other demographics... Even more concerning, 12.6% of the elderly with a second positive test after 90 days died shortly after that repeat positive test."
Do vaccinated people spread COVID as much as unvaccinated people?
Dr. McCullough claims it does. His source? A study looking at 135 people over 2 days. But these studies also do not show the whole story of transmissibility.
For example, the vaccine gives you milder symptoms and reduces the number of days that you are sick. As a result, the infection is less likely to spread because you are not coughing and sneezing all over everyone.
Studies have also shown that even among healthcare workers, those who are vaccinated had an almost 70% reduction in transmitting COVID-19 to a loved one or family member. The absolute risk dropped from 9.4% for unvaccinated people, to less than 3% for those who got both vaccinations. And as we have shown above, even a reduction in the efficacy of the vaccine over time does not make it moot.
Variants and Efficacy
Over time, the vaccines become less effective at preventing infections. This much is known to be true and is partly due to variants such as the beta, delta, and Omicron variants. But does this mean that getting the vaccine is not worth it? Of course not, despite what McCullough says, getting the vaccine is still worth it.
McCullough goes on a tyraid in the interview, talking about how the vaccines are useless because you "will have to get them every six months" (Can't wait until he hears about the flu shot). But when it comes to natural immunity, he claims this:
"Natural immunity: robust, complete, and durable. Never wear a mask. Never take a vaccine. Never take another test. You're done. It's one and done."
He also claims that he told the government of Sri Lanka to just ignore vaccination altogether and just utilize natural immunity. McCullough claims that this is what lowered Sri Lanka's COVID rate. However, I could find no evidence that Sri Lanka decided to just use natural immunity against the virus. In fact, Sri Lanka seems to be working well with a vaccine, mask mandates, and travel restrictions.
I have mentioned the harms of an infection and how "natural immunity" is the wrong choice to take in a previous article. This is mainly due to the harms associated with getting an infection, such as long-COVID, high risk of hospitalizations, and the benefit of simply not getting sick with COVID-19 as easily.
Recently the CDC came out with a new study showing that vaccination is 5 times more likely to prevent hospitalizations if infected with COVID as opposed to unvaccinated people who had a previous infection.
Due to the variants, vaccine effectiveness seems to have dropped to about 30-40% against infections, and about 70% effective against hospitalizations. However, even with the current far more contagious Omicron variant, a single booster shot is known to raise immunity against infection to 75%, and hospitalization to 85%.
It is also vital to note that, like vaccines have dropped in efficacy over time, "natural immunity" against COVID reinfections with new strains also drops over time. And since natural immunity is less effective and carries more risks than vaccines, it makes no sense to not just get the vaccine.
Also, we most likely would not have had to worry about all these new strains if people just wore masks, stayed inside when they could, received a vaccine, practiced physical distancing, and didn't spread unfounded conspiracy theories. Just saying.
Transmissibility of Omicron
About two hours and 28 minutes in, McCullough points out the "Transmissibility indices" of the different variants of COVID. "To give you a perspective for the Wuhan wild type, the original virus, the transmissibility number transmissibility index was about two. The transmissibility of Delta, which has really been hard to treat. I think Delta has been way harder. I had Alpha. You may have had Delta. You could have still had Alpha, but transmissibility Delta ten. You know what? The transmissibility Omicron is four."
So according to McCullough, the transmissibility index would look like:
This data is based on a study by researcher Jacques Fantini titled "Structural dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 variants: A health monitoring strategy for anticipating Covid-19 outbreaks" It uses lab experiments to show the potential transmissibility of variants of the virus. This is not an index based on how often people get sick though, what it would say in a lab setting might not apply to the real world. That said, the thing about this study is that it doesn't even mention the Omicron variant of COVID-19. B.1.1.529, which is the designated scientific name for the variant, does not show up at all in the paper. The only variants mentioned are the Alpha, Gamma, Delta, and Kappa variants, not the Omicron variant.
But what does the evidence say? Dr. Fauci claimed back in June that the Delta variant had a "doubling time of about two weeks" which at the time he claimed was "the greatest threat in the U.S. to our attempt to eliminate Covid-19." So what is the doubling time of the Omicron variant? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1.5 to 3 days. This would make Omicron 4.5 to about 9.5 times more infectious than Delta, assuming "about 2 weeks" is 14 days. So let me fix that chart for Dr. McCullough:
Omicron: ~45 to 93
That said, we do not know the exact data on how contagious the Omicron variant is. The number used to show this transmissibility is known as an R-naught value. This value is based on how many people the average infected person will spread the virus to.
While we do not have this number, we do know that about 73% of all new COVID cases are due to Omicron. Some researchers are even comparing the transmissibility of the virus to that of Measles. According to Dr. Jill Roberts, assistant professor at USF Health:
"Based on the mutations it has, it's probably higher than Delta, so I would guess it's probably higher than 3.2."
That said, we are going to need more data to know for sure.
Relative vs Absolute Risk: How to lie with statistics
Here is a video by Dr. Aaron Carroll discussing the difference between relative and absolute risk:
About an hour and two minutes into his discussion, McCullough claims this:
"...The last paper we have to point to is by Cohn and colleagues [discussing] 780,000 individuals in the VA. And they basically demonstrated that [for those] over 65... [the] vaccine is associated with the reduction in non-COVID-related deaths, meaning people who take the vaccine are less likely to die because of the selection bias. They had about a 1% overall absolute risk reduction in death, and then the... protection from death due to COVID... was about a 1.5%. That's it. So 1% absolute risk reduction."
Let's do a quick lesson in statistics, shall we? There are two main kinds of risk when it comes to medical statistics, these are known as relative risk, and absolute risk. "Relative risk" shows the percentage that something has changed from the baseline, while "absolute risk" shows how many percentage points the risk has changed.
A good way to explain it is like this. Say you have a 5% lifetime risk of dying from colorectal cancer. However, due to changing your diet, you were able to reduce that by a relative risk of 20%. That would change your absolute risk from 5% to 4%, or an absolute risk difference of 1%.
In the VA study that McCullough mentions, titled "SARS-CoV-2 vaccine protection and deaths among US veterans during 2021", the lowest vaccine protection against death for those aged 65 and older I have been able to find was 50% for the J&J vaccine. This is odd if, as McCullough claims, "Pfizer starts out at 92% vaccine efficacy and it drops off to 23% after six months."
About 600,000 people aged 65 and older have died from COVID, which is an absolute risk of about 12.54% compared to deaths of all causes. An absolute reduction in death by COVID of 1.5% would be a reduction of 71,000 human lives. However, if we take the study he cites at face value and vaccine efficiency dropped to 50%, then his source suggests the absolute risk reduction of death by COVID is not 1.5%, but at least 6.25%. Or 50% of the absolute risk. This is a reduction of almost 300,000 human lives.
He then claims that "veterans over age 65 who are COVID positive and [survived]... was 87% for those who took the vaccine, and for those who did not take the vaccine, the number was about 78%. It's about 1.5% and then it extends out at the end of the survival curves to about a 10% absolute difference."
Odd how he flipped the numbers so they fit the agenda he is pushing here. As if we looked at the absolute risk of death in his model between vaccinated and unvaccinated people, you would see the absolute risk of death among the vaccinated was 13% while 22% of unvaccinated people died. Among the whole US population over age 65, that "about 10% difference" is 5.4 million human lives.
Irrelevancy as an argument
McCullough brings up a lot of points in the interview that are either inaccurate or unnecessary to mention unless he is trying to push an agenda, or prevent someone from easily being able to debunk the mountain of claims he is making. This is known as a Gish Gallop.
For instance, he mentioned that one of the first vaccines made and tested in Australia caused people to get a false-positive HIV reading. They did not have HIV, the false test was harmless, and as soon as this was found out it was pulled because such a reading would cause issues in the public's confidence in the vaccine. Also, this was a vaccine, named UQ/CSL, that was only in stage one and was never used on the public.
What is the purpose of bringing this up? To claim that this was somehow a concerted effort by the government to create mass hysteria in the public. I will be talking more about asinine claims like this one in part 2.
Until then, the evidence shows that it is vital to get vaccinated and to get a booster shot if it is available to you.
So get the vaccine, get a booster shot, wear a mask, stay home if able, social distance, use hand sanitizer, wash your hands, be safe, and don't listen to any quack who makes tons of money and/or clout by shilling baseless conspiracy theories to the uneducated masses. A pretty educational video to watch on this very topic is this one by a real estate broker who is also as much an expert in virology and epidemiology as Peter McCullough is. I do not agree with 100% of what Kevin says in this video, but I do think most of what he says is backed up with facts and evidence.