How COVID-19 Vaccine Misinformation Became Mainstream



Robert Malone (left) and Joe Rogan (right)

On Sunday, January 23, 2022, worried and angry citizens numbering in the thousands descended upon Washington DC. Here, a mob of people marched shoulder to shoulder to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to make their voices heard, and as they halted their stampede, virologist Robert Malone’s voice rang out over DC. Malone’s name would not hold much notoriety a few months prior, but here he stood. While standing mere blocks away from the houses of Congress, what did Malone choose to speak about? With the eyes of the nation upon him, he dedicated his moments in the spotlight to disparage and malign the FDA-approved mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.

January 23, 2022 anti-mask/vaccine mandate protest in Washington, DC (Reuters)

In the late 1980s, Malone was involved in early studies researching mRNA technologies to determine the potential that they could have with future science. Malone’s mRNA research came to a close in 1990 before they were used to help develop vaccines several years later. While his research is often cited as an early inspiration for mRNA vaccines, Malone never applied this technology to vaccine research. Still, despite only having an indirect impact on them, he has claimed himself to be the sole inventor of mRNA vaccines. 

30 years later, an unprecedented pandemic began spreading across the globe, prompting shelter-in-place orders, mask mandates, and ultimately, vaccine production. Malone, however, displayed skepticism, instead of searching for alternative methods such as hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, both of which have been widely discredited regarding prominent health risks and doubtful effectiveness of such applications. Malone’s new research has been less than fruitful and is grounded in continually disproven criticisms of mRNA vaccines, so how did he gain a large enough platform to speak at such a wide-scale anti-vax protest? Enter Joe Rogan.

Rogan, whose podcast, “The Joe Rogan Experience,” has consistently been at the top of Spotify’s podcast charts, has been an outspoken opponent of the use of mRNA vaccines to fight COVID-19. Rogan himself has repeatedly discouraged young people from getting the vaccine, and following a positive test in late 2021, rather than taking medically approved treatments, he put himself on ivermectin based on Malone’s recommendation. Malone appeared on Rogan’s podcast at the end of December 2021, where he continued to push pseudoscientific COVID-19 treatments and mRNA vaccine skepticism. All the while, he boasted his role as an early inventor of mRNA vaccines, despite most medical professionals accrediting this to others in the field.

Discredited virologist Robert Malone appearing on Tucker Carlson Tonight (Fox News)

The Omicron Variant of COVID-19 peaked in the United States not long after the episode went live. In response to the sudden influx in cases, which largely shattered transmission records across the country, federal and state governments reenacted mask mandates alongside new vaccine mandates. The march on DC on the 23rd was organized in response to these mandates, with Malone billed as the keynote speaker. While over 20,000 people signed up to attend, only a few thousand showed up.

COVID-19 related hospitalizations in the US hit a new peak on January 18, 2022, with over 153,000 patients in a hospital bed because of the virus according to statistics collected by Johns Hopkins University and found on, a public resource aimed at using data to show a big picture of major issues facing society including COVID-19, climate change, and energy production. A January 2022 study conducted by the United States Department of Health in Washington State holds that unvaccinated Washingtonians are between two and four times more likely to contract COVID-19 compared to vaccinated Washingtonians, depending on age group. This demographic is between five and seven times more likely to be hospitalized with the disease, and unvaccinated Washingtonians above 65 years of age are 11 times more likely to die from the Coronavirus. Despite making up only 19.4% of the population at the time of the study, the unvaccinated accounted for 67.7% of cases and 75% of deaths. 64.3% of Americans are fully vaccinated (not including those who have received a booster shot), with the number steadily approaching the 70% mark required for herd immunity. It remains to be seen whether the United States will reach this point, but thinking optimistically, the end of the pandemic could finally be in sight.

Ben Preston