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When Nicki Minaj tweeted a horrific story last week about her cousin’s friend in Trinidad, swollen balls and an annulled marriage, the internet reacted as expected: with memes and sarcasm and some criticism for spreading false information. on vaccines.
But it turns out Minaj didn’t invent the false rumor that the COVID vaccine causes men’s testicles to swell. Health and public health professionals in the island nation told VICE News they were made aware of the concern long before the rap star’s thumbs were involved and that it contributed to the reluctance to vaccinate, especially in men.
“I don’t think a majority of men really believe this to be true. But once the doubt has been suggested, then they don’t want to take the risk, even if there is no scientific basis for it, ”Dr Lester Goetz, consultant urologist and founder and chairman, told VICE News. inaugural ceremony of the Caribbean Urological Association. He added that he has had his fair share of male patients who have asked how the vaccine will affect their private parts.
Several locals also told VICE News that they not only heard about the baseless rumor, but that it was preventing some people they know, especially men, from getting vaccinated.
“I was talking to some of my colleagues the other day about the vaccine, and one of the men said he would rather die before his libido died,” said Nina Khan, agricultural assistant at the Agriculture Ministry. Trinidad. (Not related to Dr Khan.) “They regard their manhood as this great prize or whatever.”
The attention generated by Minaj’s tweet has been disappointing for a country that initially tried so hard – and succeeded – to keep COVID at bay. In the first three months of the pandemic, Trinidad and Tobago had just 116 cases and began reopening businesses in early May 2020.
But over time, attention slowly drifted away from the pandemic and onto other issues, like the country’s own reckoning with police brutality. COVID cases now hover in the hundreds a day, and only 33.5% of the island nation are fully vaccinated as of September 21, according to the health ministry.
The Trinidad and Tobago health ministry was particularly frustrated when it had to investigate and refute Minaj’s claims.
“The sad thing about this is that it wasted our time yesterday trying to find it because we take all of these claims seriously,” the Trinidad and Tobago health minister said last Wednesday. Tobago, Terrence Deyalsingh.
Part of the reluctance to vaccinate likely stems from cultural beliefs, such as the collective fear of needles in Trinidad, according to Dr. Fuad Khan, a urologist based in St. Augustine, Trinidad. Parents often threaten their children for misconduct with a trip to the doctor and a gunshot. This feeling then follows them into adulthood.
Some of Dr. Khan’s patients have also inquired about the potential effects of the vaccine on their erections. This particular thread of vaccine misinformation taps into the country’s beliefs about masculinity and sex, according to Rhoda Bharath, senior lecturer at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine.
“There is a lot of sexuality involved in our culture,” she told VICE News. “What you find is that there is a constant concern with male sexual performance. The men here believe that there are a number of things they need to eat, drink and do regularly in order to be able to improve. their sexual performance.
Ironically, one of the documented side effects of COVID is erectile dysfunction and decreased libido.
“You would think, given that this is one of the side effects, the majority of the male population here would have rushed to get the vaccine,” Bharath added.
The COVID vaccine plots are nothing new or unique to Trinidad and Tobago. One in 5 Americans believe at least one lie about the COVID vaccine, such as that it modifies people’s DNA or contains microchips, according to a recent survey by the COVID States Project. (They don’t.) And like many American versions, the rumor around swollen balls has proliferated on social media.
Twitter, for example, decided to leave Minaj’s original tweet because she was sharing a personal story, rather than pushing a plot, which didn’t violate her policies. And the people of Trinidad and Tobago are seeing a lot of talk about TikTok, in particular, according to Carol St. Louis, an employee of the Trinidad Ministry of Health, told VICE News.
“People will get a video from TikTok and give their own idea of what they think is right and why they shouldn’t take it,” St. Louis said. “There are people who say, ‘Oh, they haven’t tested long enough’ or ‘They just want to put a tracker on you when they inject you. I have heard people say “they are trying to kill half the population because the world is too crowded”.
“And everyone says they’re doing research,” added St. Louis. “What research can you do like that?” “
For starters, people can ask their doctor for more information. After that, Dr Khan said many of his patients decided to get vaccinated. Ironically, some have experienced the opposite effect of what the rumor perpetuates on their sex lives.
“These are more anecdotal events, and I don’t know how true that can be,” Dr Khan said. “But some of my male patients reported that their erections got stronger than ever. But in that same breath, the women said their libido had increased.
It does make sense though. Living in a pandemic – and trying to have sex in one – is stressful. And getting the vaccine can help alleviate some of the crippling uncertainty about libido.
“People have been locked up for 18 months,” Dr Khan said. “But when they get vaccinated, people tend to have some hope, that it will all be over soon and that they can go back to normal life. And when stress decreases, sexual activity and sexual feelings are known to increase.