Nicki Minaj is usually present on the Met Gala red carpet, but this year, she upstaged the famed charity event by not going. Instead, she posted a rather unfortunate tweet about the COVID-19 vaccine, blasting medical misinformation into an already-fraught online space — causing a public uproar and international incident in not one, not two, but three separate countries.
First, Minaj announced that she would not be attending the Met Gala because of its vaccination requirement. She explained that if she got the vaccine, it would be after she feels she’s “done enough research.”* Minaj does not indicate what kind of “research” she is doing, but we’re guessing it entails watching poorly produced YouTube videos and reading out-of-context horror stories. This assumption is based on the fact that, following this tweet, she retweets other users who claim to have experienced severe symptoms following the vaccine.
Next, Minaj drops this extremely incorrect anti-vax tweet bomb that shook the planet. Allegedly, her cousin has a friend who, after getting the vaccine, began noticing swelling in his balls and now can’t get a boner. His fiancée called off their wedding, and now the entire world is talking about his giant scrotum. This poor man. Imagine the mortification he must be feeling, assuming he actually exists.
To reiterate basic science: the COVID-19 vaccine does not cause erectile dysfunction, testicular swelling, or problems with male fertility. It just doesn’t. There is research to back this up. (Though, a few sexually transmitted infections, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, can cause swollen testicles. Maybe that’s why the wedding was called off.)
Additionally, testicular cancer can cause such symptoms. The Mayo Clinic recommends that patients experiencing groin swelling be checked out by their doctor, especially if lasts more than two weeks. So Minaj’s cousin’s friend’s swollen balls are certainly not the results of the vaccine, but could indicate a potentially more serious medical issue. Then again, we all saw The White Lotus, didn’t we?
The backlash was immediate. Twitter exploded into its brand of consternation and memes, and cable TV talking heads picked up the story. She got into a feud with MSBNC host Joy Reid almost immediately after the segment aired, and it was later covered by Tucker Carlson at Fox News. We’ll get back to Carlson later.
Given that Minaj’s tweet is hearsay, it is impossible to verify the accuracy of what she is claiming. But that’s exactly what the Trinidad and Tobago Health Minister Dr. Terrence Deyalsingh unsuccessfully attempted to do. “We take all cases seriously,” he said, lamenting in a press conference that his office wasted an entire day of work trying to track down Minaj’s cousin’s friend with the big sad balls. “As we stand now, there is absolutely no reported side effect or adverse event of testicular swelling in Trinidad,” said Dr. Deyalsingh in a plainly irritated voice, “and none that we know of anywhere in the world.”
Minaj’s misinfo made it all the way to UK. Chris Whitty, who is England’s chief medical officer, spoke at a Downing Street press conference, slamming her claims about vax-related impotence as “clearly ridiculous” and “designed just to scare.” Prime Minister Boris Johnson unhelpfully added that he is “not as familiar with the works of Nicki Minaj as I probably should be” — prompting a bizarre reply from Minaj herself. “I love him even tho I guess this was a diss? The accent ugh! Yassss boo!!!,” she wrote on Twitter. Then she recorded an audio message in which she fakes a terrible British accent, and directs it to Johnson. “I went to school with Margaret Thatcher,” she said, and offered to send him a “portfolio of my work, since you don’t know much about me.” Folks, you can’t make this up.
Now, the White House has reached out to Minaj, in an effort to quell the highest-profile vaccine misinformation firestorm to date. CBS News reported that an administration official “offered Nicki Minaj a call with a doctor,” contradicting her claims that she was invited to the White House. “As we have with others, we offered a call with Nicki Minaj and one of our doctors to answer questions she has about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine,” the official told CBS.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, also slammed Minaj’s comments. “There’s no evidence that [male fertility problems] happen, nor is there any mechanistic reason to imagine that it would happen,” he said to CNN’s Jake Tapper, sounding both incredulous and exhausted.
The backlash reached a fever pitch when Minaj reposted the video of Carlson’s segment about the story. Carlson, a white supremacist who has also spread misinformation about the vaccine, framed Minaj’s story under the bad-faith logical fallacy of “just asking questions;” some of her followers expressed their disappointment.
At this point, we are fully on day three of #BallGate. Minaj, clearly frustrated with how the story has spiraled out of control (though, to be fair, she did start this mess), took to Instagram Live to air her grievances against the White House, Twitter, and cancel culture. Her phone camera was not visible in the video; it was placed near her in a dark room, so viewers could on hear her voice. She ranted about the alleged White House invitation, saying that “Do y’all think I would go on the internet and lie about being invited to the fucking White House?”
“And I see why a lot of celebrities keep themselves bubbled up,” she continued. “You understand? We’re living in a place without free healthcare. So anybody in this country has the right to question anything about their health. Because if your health mattered that fucking much there’d be free fucking healthcare, bozo.” (The COVID-19 vaccine is free and available to anyone over age 12 regardless of immigration status.)
Sure, it’s a little sad and mostly hilarious that a huge star has kicked off a worldwide freakout over a nutsack. But the problem is, in the United States, COVID-19 cases are still disastrously high. As of press time, there are 152,605 confirmed infections in the country, and 666,816 reported deaths. 1,943 of those deaths occurred yesterday alone. Vaccine hesitancy is a real problem, and the unvaccinated are 11 times more likely to die from COVID-19.
As for the supposed cousin’s friend whose balls are at the center of this controversy? So far, he hasn’t been located. Minaj tweeted that her cousin asked her to call him, but there has been no information since then. W will update this story if new information develops.
Please get the vaccine. It will not cause problems with your groin, but it could save your life.
*Note that, in the United States, all scientifically accurate information about the vaccine clinical trials, efficacy, and side effects can be found here on the Center for Disease Control’s website.