Nicki Minaj and the Tale of the Giant Balls proves we need to explain vaccines better

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 22:  Nicki Minaj onstage at the 2013 BMI R&B/Hip-Hop Awards at Hammerstein Bal...
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Let's get one thing out of the way: Nicki Minaj is wrong about the Covid-19 vaccine causing impotence. Unlike a regular person with some reservations about getting the shot, however, the megastar has major sway over legions of fans. The Barbz have no qualms about doxxing and threatening those who speak ill of their queen. So when Minaj says she's not vaccinated and implies it's partly because her cousin's friend in Trinidad allegedly got swollen testicles after getting the jab (this has been thoroughly debunked), you better believe some of her fans will take her word as truth and refuse to get their own life-saving shot.

Health experts refuted Minaj's tweet as ridiculous. "There’s no evidence that it happens, nor is there any mechanistic reason to imagine that it would happen," Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN. "I'm not blaming her for anything but she should be thinking twice about propagating information that really has no basis." The Health Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. Terrence Deyalsingh, was more direct with his criticism: "What was sad about this is that it wasted our time yesterday trying to track down, because we take all these claims seriously, whether it’s on social media or mainstream media," he said. "As we stand now, there is absolutely no reported such side effects or adverse event of testicular swelling in Trinidad."

Obviously, Nicki's cousin's friend's giant balls became the fodder for tons of memes and a bevy of jokes on late-night. Tucker Carlson was so overjoyed to have a peg to hang his anti-vaxxer hat on that he devoted significant airtime during his nightly Fox News show to the Minaj saga this week, going so far as to invite the cousin's friend to share his side of the story on air. A group of Barbz actually gathered outside CDC headquarters in Atlanta to protest the vaccines this week. It's tempting to dismiss this whole debacle as misinformed idiocy, but doing so is dangerous. The fact that Minaj's words caused such a stir indicates how potent vaccine skepticism is.

The government needs to figure out how to educate people on vaccines without shaming or alienating them. The rapper tweeted on Wednesday that she'd been invited to the White House to address her questions about the coronavirus vaccine. The Biden administration walked back that claim, however, saying Minaj was offered a call with a government doctor instead. They've extended the same offer to other folks skeptical of the shot.

Meanwhile, the White House has leaned on pro-vaxx celebrities like Olivia Rodrigo to encourage young Americans to get immunized. While details about what's in the vaccine and how it works to help your body fight Covid-19 are accessible to anyone who knows where to look, lies about the shot tend to be stickier. "There's a lot of misinformation, mostly on social media, and the only way we know to counter mis- and disinformation is to provide a lot of correct information and to essentially debunk these kinds of claims, which may be innocent on her part," Dr. Fauci said of Minaj's tweets.

It raises the question: if the Biden administration can coordinate Q&As between doctors and skeptical celebrities, why don't they do the same for the public? It's easy to imagine a weekly session on Zoom or something, where Dr. Fauci explains in clear language what's in the vaccine and how it interacts with your body. Clearly this information is currently getting lost in translation.

Unlike some of the other late-night hosts who gleefully roasted Minaj, Trevor Noah called for compassion and patience. "A lot of liberals were in the same position, and people like that should probably have a little more patience for people who haven’t gotten over that hesitancy as fast as they have," he said. On one hand, anti-vaxxers need to suck it up and get the shot soon, so humanity can put this plague to bed before its mutations can evade vaccines completely. But we also need to meet these people where they're at and not shame them for having questions. That's the part Minaj is right about, not swollen testicles.