WHO WOULD have thought the greatest challenge to the Government's vaccination programme would have come from Nicki Minaj?
The Trinidad-born US rapper tweeted on Monday about covid19 vaccination, telling a story about a local cousin who was unwilling to get vaccinated because “his friend got it and became impotent. His testicles became swollen.”
She’s since decried as “lies” coverage of her statement; implied her meaning has been misconstrued; and pointed to other tweets in which she said she would get vaccinated because of the need to work and recommended other workers do so.
But Ms Minaj, a rapper well-versed in the power of words, created much room for doubt and for the injection of anti-vaxxer sentiment when, in an earlier tweet, she noted attendees at New York’s Met Gala had been mandated to get jabbed.
“If I get vaccinated it won’t be for the Met,” she said. “It’ll be once I feel I’ve done enough research.”
Having doubled down on her position, she railed against people being “bullied” and retweeted – without context, to more than 20 million followers – a story about someone who had apparently suffered adverse effects after being vaccinated.
Two days later, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh on Wednesday finally replied to all of this, saying his ministry had delayed in speaking out because it wanted to check carefully what health officials all over the world had immediately deemed unsound.
“'There’s no evidence that it happens, nor is there any mechanistic reason to imagine that it would happen,” said eminent immunologist Dr Anthony Fauci in a television interview hours earlier. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) debunked the tweet, while the UK’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Witty on Tuesday slammed the star.
But the damage had already been done, not only to governments all over the world – including ours – battling vaccine hesitancy, but to TT’s international reputation.
In the space of months, this country has moved from being heralded as having one of the best responses to covid19 to being ridiculed internationally, with even UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson chiming in, on Tuesday wryly remarking, “I’m not as familiar with the works of Nicki Minaj as I should be.”
To be fair to Ms Minaj, she also recently suggested on Twitter that she has been diagnosed with covid19. It is possible all of this should be understood in the context of the strains of that condition, one of whose lingering after-effects can be brain fog.
But what is clear is the rapper has done potentially irreparable harm to the cause for vaccination, in the process putting pressure on a government with a penchant for flat-footed communications and a tepid approach to mandatory vaccination.
“It certainly did not help us,” Mr Deyalsingh said in an uncharacteristic understatement. “It will make our job a little harder.”