Prof Chris Whitty has said those spreading myths about Covid-19 vaccines “should be ashamed” as he dismissed a tweet by rapper Nicki Minaj which claimed that her cousin’s friend was rendered impotent after the jab caused swelling in his testicles.
When asked about the musician making the baseless claim to her vast online following, England’s chief medical officer said it was important to stress that the overwhelming majority of people were ignoring unfounded stories about the vaccines.
“There are a number of myths that fly around … some of which are just clearly ridiculous and some of which are clearly designed just to scare. That happens to be one of them. That is untrue,” Whitty said during Tuesday’s Downing Street press conference.
Minaj, who has more than 22 million followers on Twitter, posted that a cousin had been told by a friend about unwanted side-effects of the vaccine. Impotence is not listed as a potential side-effect on the NHS website. Minaj also later said she suspects that she will eventually receive a jab.
At the press conference, the prime minister said that he was more familiar with the work of Dr Nikki Kanani, who has briefed the UK on the pandemic in the past and has said she would urge people to get vaccinated.
Whitty added: “If you think about where we are overall … the great majority of people are getting vaccinated. So the great majority [of] people are ignoring these myths. And, if you talk about people in their 50s and 60s and 70s, we’re talking about over 90% of people getting vaccinated. And very few people actually are actively, in a sense, in the anti-vax group.
“There are a group of people who’ve got strange beliefs and … fine. And they make their own choices and, in a sense, also fine. People are adults who are allowed to make their own choices; however strange. That is a basic principle of medical ethics, actually.
“But there are also people who go around trying to discourage other people from taking a vaccine, which could be life-saving or preventing them from having life-changing injuries. And many of those people, I regret to say, I think know that they are peddling untruths. But they still do it. In my view, they should be ashamed.”
Minaj – a former American Idol host best known for songs Starships, Super Bass and Anaconda – later tried to make light of the row, posting an audio clip of herself affecting an RP English accent and saying she loved Boris Johnson and forgave him his ignorance of her work.
Responding to a video of Johnson admitting that he was not overly familiar with Minaj’s oeuvre, she tweeted: “I love him even tho I guess this was a diss? The accent ugh! Yassss boo!!!”
Minaj also took issue with presenter Piers Morgan’s claim that she was “one of the rudest little madams I’ve ever met” and that “peddling lies that will cost lives”. Minaj responded: “Sir I’ve never met you … I know … we all look alike,” adding that she loved the accent and would “love to come chat. Scones. Tea. Clown nose & big red shoes for you”.
During the same press conference, Whitty sought to debunk the myth that large numbers of young people are refusing the Covid-19 vaccine. “The great majority of people aged 16 to 29 have already taken up their first vaccine and are taking up their second.”
Responding to a question about the practicality of nightclubs being asked to check vaccination status, he said it was “completely untrue” that only a small number of young people have had a jab.