Nicki Minaj may be the “queen of rap,” but she certainly isn’t the queen of following public health recommendations.
Compared to the topics I usually cover, I will admit that this is a bit out there, but when someone of Minaj’s caliber stands against the prevailing views of both Hollywood and the Biden White House, the situation becomes worth discussing.
In case you missed it, the “Super Bass” rapper snagged headlines last week with her viral tweet about the apparent side effects of one COVID-19 vaccine. Minaj claimed that a friend of her cousin became impotent and suffered “swollen testicles” after receiving his shot.
“My cousin in Trinidad won’t get the vaccine cuz his friend got it & became impotent,” Minaj tweeted on Monday, Sept. 13. “His testicles became swollen. His friend was weeks away from getting married, now the girl called off the wedding. So just pray on it & make sure you’re comfortable with ur decision, not bullied.”
Both the identity and specific symptoms of the man have not been confirmed, but Minaj’s mention of such a bizarre side effect was enough to send the world into a frenzy.
For one, officials in both the United Kingdom and Minaj’s homeland of Trinidad felt the need to address her claims. From London, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said that Minaj “should be ashamed” for promoting “clearly ridiculous” myths. Dr. Terrence Deyalsingh, the head of Trinidad and Tobago’s Ministry of Health, said that his organization “wasted so much time” trying to track down that poor, testically-swollen soul (with no success of course).
In reacting to Minaj’s post, some Twitter users were quick to speculate that the swollen testicles were actually the result of a sexually transmitted infection. Though I’m no medical expert, this explanation seems much more plausible. Perhaps the man’s fiancé had already been infected, or he had been unfortunately unfaithful in the days leading up to his wedding.
However, in entertaining such lurid curiosities, we fail to see that the drama surrounding Minaj is not an issue of COVID-19 misinformation, nor of those “evil anti-vaxxers” delaying a return to normalcy for everyone else. Rather, it is one of the “vaccine-hesitant,” who are often unfairly grouped in with the anti-vaxxers.
At this point in the pandemic, the opportunity window to convince inoculation’s staunchest opponents otherwise has closed. One particular demographic — rural, strongly religious supporters of former President Donald Trump — remains the most opposed to receiving COVID-19 shots by a large margin. Nothing that President Joe Biden says is going to convince them otherwise, just as no DNC employees are going to buy Trump’s 458th claim of fraud in the 2020 election.
Despite all this polarization, there is a vaccine-hesitant middle ground composed of urban Black and Hispanic people. Most are blue-collar workers with families to support, and most voted for Biden in last year’s election.
Beyond their generally low trust in our country’s medical institutions, members of this middle ground worry that side effects from the vaccine will cause them to miss several days of work, thus limiting their roles as breadwinners. They also grapple with the poor accessibility of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in their communities, as inferior J&J jabs have reigned supreme.
Yet, the concerns of vaccine-hesitant individuals have been ignored and even demonized by the enthusiastically vaccinated. As members of this group know, never before in American history has such a widely distributed vaccine been developed so quickly. They feel they have no voice, as though they are mere dust in a raging sandstorm between the minions of Dr. Fauci and Majorie Taylor Greene.
As luck would have it, Minaj has emerged to become the closest thing this middle ground has to a spokeswoman.
To be clear, I am puzzled by the spike in anti-vax Minaj fandom. Nowhere in her tweet did Minaj make a case against the vaccine — she simply encouraged her fans to be “comfortable with” their decision. In her quest to “do more research,” Minaj actually tweeted a poll to get input from her largely vaccinated fanbase.
The Biden administration — though increasingly scathing in tone toward unvaccinated individuals — seems to recognize that there somehow lies political capital in Minaj’s tweet. Instead of publicly slamming Minaj’s claims like their British and Trinidadian counterparts, the White House offered the rapper a phone call to answer all of her totally legitimate questions. This is a huge step up from this summer’s Olivia Rodrigo theatre, which likely convinced no one above the actual eligibility age to get vaccinated.
As such, the path out of this pandemic lies in winning over vaccine-hesitant individuals. As anti-vaxxers dig in deeper, Biden must continue to view the Nicki Minaj’s of the world as the ace up his sleeve. By “cutting losses” with anti-vaxxers and targeting vaccine-hesitant individuals, the president can right the ship — and perhaps reverse his plummeting approval ratings.