Nicki Minaj sparked a social media storm on Monday night after she tweeted about her cousin’s hesitancy to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, setting off a slew of critiques that she was spreading coronavirus misinformation.
Minaj tweeted that her cousin in Trinidad, where the singer and rapper is from, “won’t get the vaccine cuz his friend got it & became impotent. His testicles became swollen.”
Medical experts have said that claims about infertility linked to vaccinations are unsubstantiated.
“There are stories out there on the internet about how vaccination can lead to infertility. There’s absolutely nothing to that,” Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told The Washington Post earlier this year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also underscored in advice in August that: “There is currently no evidence that any vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines, cause fertility problems in women or men.”
In tweeting about her reasoning for missing Monday’s Met Gala in New York, Minaj implied that she had yet to be vaccinated - something the gala required - writing, “I’m sure I’ll b vaccinated as well cuz I have to go on tour.” She said it would happen “once I feel I’ve done enough research.”
The comments from the pop star come as the Biden administration has described the latest wave of coronavirus cases in the United States as “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
Officials have encountered vaccine skepticism from some women of childbearing age and groups including some Black and Hispanic adults, who have historically faced disparities in health care. Public health experts say widespread vaccine hesitancy increases the threat of the virus mutating and helps keep the pandemic raging.
MSNBC host Joy-Ann Reid reacted to Minaj’s tweets, noting that they could increase hesitancy in the Black community. “For you to use your platform to encourage our community to not protect themselves and save their lives ...” she said, “as a fan, I am so sad that you did that.”
Minaj responded to the criticism by calling it a “false narrative.”
She encouraged her fans to “just pray on it & make sure you’re comfortable with ur decision, not bullied.”
In a survey last year, some Black respondents cited knowledge of the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study - a secret experiment conducted by the U.S. government from 1932 until 1972 to study the deadly venereal disease without treatment - as influencing their opinions about the coronavirus vaccines. Only about 4 in 10 Black Americans (43 percent) had received a vaccine dose as of Sept. 7, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. However, White adults still account for the largest share (57 percent) of unvaccinated adults.
Misinformation over the vaccine has been amplified on social media platforms. Minaj, like other celebrities, has millions of online followers, among them a devoted fandom known as Barbz, and a huge platform in the United States where just over half of the population is fully vaccinated.
A Twitter spokesperson said in a statement to The Washington Post on Tuesday that Minaj’s tweets were “not in violation of the Twitter Rules.”
In order for a tweet to violate Twitter’s policies on COVID-19 misinformation, they must advance a claim of fact, expressed in definitive terms.
Minaj, who did not immediately respond The Post’s request for comment, did not say that she was anti-vaccine. Instead, the mother of one shared a tweet from a supporter that said that “everything has a risk.”
She also later praised those who had been vaccinated and set up a Twitter poll on favored coronavirus vaccines.
Many other celebrities have made headlines for venting their dismay toward the unvaccinated and encouraging their fans to get the shots - among them radio host Howard Stern, who blamed unvaccinated people for “clogging” up overwhelmed hospitals.
Actor Sean Penn has said the vaccine should be mandatory and has called on Hollywood to implement vaccination guidelines on film sets.
And late-night talk host Jimmy Kimmel suggested that hospitals shouldn’t treat unvaccinated patients who prefer to take ivermectin - a medicine long used to kill parasites in animals and humans that has soared in popularity despite being an unproven COVID-19 treatment and the subject of warnings by health officials.