For many people, Nicki Minaj’s scene-stealing tweets about why she chose not to attend the Met Gala Monday night were peak comedy. Minaj told several people on social media she’d chosen not to attend the haute couture event because of its requirement that attendees be vaccinated against Covid-19. After she explained her hesitancy in a baffling, instantly viral tweet involving swollen testicles and a canceled wedding, some ignored the more concerning parts of Minaj’s argument in favor of laughing.
While it’s tempting to just focus on the absurdist meme potential of Minaj’s tweets, Minaj’s approach to the vaccine is deeply concerning, both because it reflects a strain of distrust in public policy, health, and science experts and because it presents a cautionary mindset regarding vaccines as a sort of reasonable “middle ground” in the fight between science and anti-vax ideology.
So far, about three-quarters of US adults are at least partially vaccinated against Covid-19, but many of the rest remain reluctant. As vaccinations become mandatory in many workplaces and schools, and people who are reluctant start discussing their anxieties, Minaj’s cautionary, individualistic approach to getting vaccinated might seem relatable and even reasonable. But this is still a highly dangerous approach rooted in misinformation and a concerning distrust of science.
We might think of it as the mainstreaming of “vaccine caution,” and it’s arguably just as dangerous as outright vaccine science denial.
Did Minaj’s cousin’s friend’s fiancée really call off their wedding because he got vaccinated?
On Monday afternoon, Minaj responded to a tweet from a fan lamenting her lack of recent public appearances by noting she didn’t want to risk her infant’s health during the pandemic. A few interactions later — including one in which she claimed Drake told her he contracted Covid-19 despite having gotten the vaccine — she tweeted, “They want you to get vaccinated for the Met. if I get vaccinated it won’t [be] for the Met. It’ll be once I feel I’ve done enough research. I’m working on that now.”
They want you to get vaccinated for the Met. if I get vaccinated it won’t for the Met. It’ll be once I feel I’ve done enough research. I’m working on that now. In the meantime my loves, be safe. Wear the mask with 2 strings that grips your head & face. Not that loose one ♥️
— Nicki Minaj (@NICKIMINAJ) September 13, 2021
Since it’s combined with the invocation to wear a mask — advice given by experts who’ve endorsed vaccines — Minaj’s wary approach to the vaccine is a bit confusing. However, it’s nothing compared to what she followed it up with. Apparently, a big part of her reluctance to get vaccinated was based in part on the fate of her Trinidadian cousin’s friend’s nuptials:
My cousin in Trinidad won’t get the vaccine cuz his friend got it & became impotent. 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
— Nicki Minaj (@NICKIMINAJ) September 13, 2021
Just to spell it out, known side effects of the Covid-19 vaccine do not include testicle swelling (although unfounded concerns about the vaccine and female fertility have circulated). Without more context about Minaj’s cousin’s friend’s illness, it’s impossible to know more — but it seems highly unlikely his situation had anything to do with Covid-19.
Naturally, this kind of left-field reasoning was widely ridiculed across social media, and Minaj quickly made headlines for peddling coronavirus conspiracies. Yet even as people were lining up to make STD references and Met Gala memes, many of Minaj’s fans were responding supportively — especially to her statement about “doing the research.”
“I read up on all the research for MONTHS before I chose to get it,” one reader responded, referring to the vaccine. “Everyone has the right to read the information given by the FDA and doctors before they take the shot right?”
This belief underlies Minaj’s argument, and it seems to be one that’s held by many other people with similar levels of mistrust in vaccine science.
Minaj’s insistence on doing her own “research” reflects collective Covid-19 anxiety
The problem with “doing one’s own research” is that, as Minaj’s tweets reveal, many people — who haven’t spent years researching viruses and vaccines — don’t have the scientific knowledge needed to evaluate vaccine efficacy without the help of experts. A huge part of the effort to curb Covid-related misinformation has been about trying to get people to understand that vaccination “research” isn’t something many people can just sit down and do on their own. Trying to do so may lead the researcher to pockets of misinformation that result in a citizen being more…