How social media affects hesitant vaccination
The latest round of Twitter comments from rapper Nicki Minaj highlights influencers’ ability to influence vaccine choices, especially among the black community.
It all started with a series of tweets. Rap sensation Nicki Minaj caught the attention of political experts, medical professionals and even the White House after giving her opinion on COVID-19 vaccines.
The rapper’s spate of tweets on Sept. 13 told fans she needed to do more research before receiving the vaccine, encouraged them to do the same, and suggested they wear their masks in the meantime. But the most controversial tweet was an antidote about a friend of her cousin’s who lived in her home country, Trinidad and Tobago, who became impotent and developed swollen testicles after being vaccinated.
“My cousin in Trinidad isn’t getting the vaccine because his friend got it and became impotent,” tweeted the hip-hop star. “His testicles are swollen. His friend was still weeks away from the marriage, now the girl canceled the wedding. So just pray on it and make sure you are comfortable with your decision and not bullied. “
Some condemned Minaj for questioning the vaccine and condemned her for providing false information to her 22.7 million followers. Many overlook the rapper’s other tweets encouraging her followers to get vaccinated and even posted a poll asking them which vaccine they prefer. Unsurprisingly, the erectile dysfunction narrative took center stage when critics shouted Minaj for spreading false information.
They want you to be vaccinated for the Met. If I get vaccinated, it won’t be for the Met. It will be as soon as I feel I’ve done enough research. I’m working on that right now. In the meantime, dear ones, be safe. Wear the mask with 2 strings that grip your head and face. Not so easy ️
– Nicki Minaj (@NICKIMINAJ) September 13, 2021
“For you to use your platform to encourage our community not to protect themselves and save their lives … As a fan, I am so sad that you did that,” exclaimed Joy Reid of MSNBC from “The ReidOut” on September 19th when she waved her fingers at the screen.
This is what happens when you are so thirsty to kill another black woman (at the request of the white man) that you didn’t bother reading all of my tweets. “My god SISTER does it better” Imagine getting your stupid ass a minute after you tweeted on TV to spread a false story about a black woman https://t.co/4UviONyTHy
– Nicki Minaj (@NICKIMINAJ) September 14, 2021
Reid wasn’t the only member of the media concerned with this issue. Minaj’s tweets sparked reactions from the likes of former “The View” presenter Meghan McCain, who described the 38-year-old’s tweets as “irresponsible”. Late night presenters Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert made fun of Minaj’s news. Others, like radio host Charlamagne tha God, took a gentler approach, suggesting that this be a teachable moment to educate those who question the vaccine.
The director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci, MD, has since debunked Minaj’s tweet that the vaccine was linked to reproductive problems. Minister of Health of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago Terrence Deyalsingh, MP, commented, saying no cases have been reported of the vaccine being linked to testicular swelling.
“Unfortunately we wasted so much time yesterday trying to weigh this false claim,” said Dr. Deyalsingh earlier this week. “As far as we know at this point, no such side effect or adverse event has been reported. And the sad part is that yesterday we wasted our time tracking them down because we take all these claims seriously, be it on social media or mainstream media. “
Minaj, whose real name is Onika Maraj-Petty, is one of many black Americans who are reluctant to sign up for inclusion. According to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), only 42% of blacks are vaccinated compared to 52% of the white population. In December 2020, Kenrya Rankin from HealthCentral addressed the population’s distrust in medicine.
“The racism enshrined in the United States medical system makes many blacks reluctant to get vaccinated,” wrote Rankin. “This leads doctors to fear that the communities hardest hit by the coronavirus – and the chronic health conditions it leaves behind – will not be vaccinated.”
In truth, stories like the 1932 Tuskegee Syphilis Study, in which doctors purposely did not treat black men with the disease, are a pretty compelling argument for medical suspicion. So is the story of Henrietta Lacks, the poor black woman whose cells were stolen by a doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s. For those who claim this is all ancient history, just this year California announced it would be paying out millions to surviving victims of forced sterilization programs that have severely affected people of color.
Whether you agree with Minaj or not, the bottom line is that if you’re a black guy in America, concerns about Vax are likely more real to you than to other groups. Some fans applauded Minaj on Twitter for admitting her hesitation about vaccines and thanked her for asking questions. In response to a fan who suggested she speak at the United Nations General Assembly, Minaj said she had been invited by the White House to continue the conversation. (The White House has confirmed that it has offered the star a phone call with a doctor.)
The biggest takeaway from Minaj’s tweets could be a reminder that in the age of the internet, social media – for better or worse – are all powerful in influencing public opinion. Because of this, medical experts like two-time family doctor Kristamarie Collman, MD, have visited Tik Tok and Instagram to spread the word about the healthcare, COVID-19 and vaccines.
“I have come across so much information and myths being shared online by big accounts and people who have had a lot of influence but didn’t have the background to talk about these topics,” says Dr. Collman, who heads Prose Medical in Orlando, Florida.
As a black woman, the doctor admits that she even had questions about the vaccine. “I made sure I did the research and listened to the people who had the expertise, education and background to give me all the information I needed,” says Dr. Collman. “I weighed my pros and cons and risks against advantages and decided that a vaccination was best for me and my family.”
Dr. Collman hopes that more people in the black community will be comfortable with the idea of vaccination if she presents the facts and shares her expertise as a doctor and perspective as a woman of color. What is Minaj going to do? Only time – and Twitter – will tell.
The White House invited me and I think this is a step in the right direction. Yes I go. I’ll be dressed all pink, like Legally Blonde, so they’ll know I’m serious. I ask questions on behalf of people who have been made fun of for simply being human. #BallGate Day 3 https://t.co/PSa3WcEjH3
– Nicki Minaj (@NICKIMINAJ) September 15, 2021