Two days after testing positive for COVID-19, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers joined the “Pat McAfee Show” on Friday to explain his decision to not take one of the COVID-19 vaccines.
Rodgers described himself as not “some sort of anti-vax, flat-earther” but rather “a critical thinker.” He referenced the “woke mob” and a “witch hunt” against those who are unvaccinated. And he offered his opinion on a variety of issues related to the pandemic and personal health.
His comments were riddled with debunked claims.
Here are six of the most blatantly false or misleading statements Rodgers made during Friday’s appearance.
COVID-19 rates among unvaccinated
Rodgers’ claim: “This idea that it’s a pandemic of the unvaccinated, it’s a just a total lie.”
Fact check: Unvaccinated individuals are, in fact, bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s impact.
Perhaps the most notable evidence of this came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this fall. The CDC studied more than 600,000 cases of COVID-19 from 13 states and found that unvaccinated people were 4.5 times more likely to get infected, 10 times more likely to be hospitalized and 11 times more likely to die than their vaccinated counterparts.
Vaccines as a silver bullet
Rodgers’ question: “If the vaccine is so great, then how come people are still getting COVID and spreading COVID and, unfortunately, dying of COVID?”
Fact check: Vaccines are public health tools that significantly reduce the risk of contracting or becoming ill from COVID-19, as illustrated in the aforementioned statistics. No vaccine is 100% effective, however, and “breakthrough infections” are possible.
The three COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S. have been proven to be at least 70% effective in preventing illness, and upwards of 90% effective in preventing severe cases. Studies also suggest that booster shots, which are available for certain segments of the population, increase those efficacy rates.
Ivermectin as COVID-19 treatment
Rodgers’ claim: “Why do people hate ivermectin? Not just because (President Donald) Trump championed it, but because it’s a cheap generic, and you can’t make any money off of it.”
Fact check: Rodgers says he has been taking ivermectin, among other treatments. Experts have discouraged doing so.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, ivermectin is used to treat maladies like parasites and scabies. It “has not been approved as a treatment for any sort of viral infection,” and it has not been proven to treat COVID-19.
“The reason for the interest in ivermectin is that studies in the lab have shown it can block viruses from multiplying in experimental settings – i.e. in a petri dish – and so people hoped this would mean it could help treat COVID-19 in people too,” Denise McCulloch, an infectious disease specialist with the University of Washington’s School of Medicine, told USA TODAY in an email in August.
“Unfortunately, the few high-quality studies that have been done to date do not demonstrate a beneficial effect of ivermectin when it is used in people with COVID-19.”
The FDA says there are multiple clinical trials underway or in development to further evaluate the potential use of ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19.
Vaccination vs. natural immunity
Rodgers’ claim: “If you’ve gotten COVID, and recovered from it, that’s the best boost to immunity that we can have.”
Fact check: It’s unclear what Rodgers meant by “the best boost to immunity.” But his claim is, at best, partly false.
Experts believe that vaccination and infection both generate a strong immune response, but it is unclear which provides protection for a longer period of time. The vaccines, experts say, do provide more consistent protection. And, most importantly, they offer the benefits of immunity without the risk of actually contracting the disease.
“To get immunity from a natural infection, you first have to get the infection — and risk a serious illness or having long-term health consequences,” Ellen Foxman, an assistant professor of laboratory medicine and immunobiology at the Yale School of Medicine, told USA TODAY in an email in June.
“You also risk spreading the virus to friends and loved ones who might get a serious illness, even if you don’t. The main reason to get a vaccine is to get immunity without taking these health risks.”
A growing body of research suggests previous coronavirus infection plus vaccination provides the strongest protection against COVID-19.
COVID-19 and fertility
Rodgers’ claim: “To my knowledge, there’s been zero long-term studies around sterility or fertility issues around the vaccine. So that was definitely something I was worried about.”
Fact: There is no scientific evidence to support Rodgers’ concerns. According to the CDC, “there is currently no evidence that any vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines, cause fertility problems in women or men.”
“Long-term studies” on the issue haven’t been possible, of course, given the COVID-19 vaccines’ brief existence. However, researchers at the University of Miami did conduct a study late last year into the possible impact of the vaccine on male sperm counts and found no significant changes.
If anything, experts believe that contracting COVID-19 is what could ultimately have an impact on fertility, because the disease can often result in a prolonged fever.
“Getting COVID can be potentially detrimental to their fertility,” said Sigal Klipstein, chair of the ethics committee at the American Society of Reproductive Medicine. “And getting the vaccine is safe and could even protect fertility by protecting you against the severe effects of COVID disease.”
We know a lot about the vaccine
Rodgers’ claim: “This vaccine is revolutionary, the things that they’re doing. However, we don’t know a lot about it.”
Fact check: Rodgers is correct that the vaccine is revolutionary, but incorrect that “we don’t know a lot about it.”
The roots of the COVID-19 vaccines can be traced back nearly two decades, to the emergence of SARS – another coronavirus. And the mRNA technology that is used in both the Pfizer-BioN and Moderna vaccines had been in development long before the emergence of COVID-19.
As for the COVID-19 vaccines themselves, they were made available to the public only after extensive trials and testing. The CDC says they have undergone and will continue to undergo what it called “the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history.”