Fact check: COVID-19 vaccine doesn't cause side effects in Nicki Minaj tweet

The claim: COVID-19 vaccine caused one man's swollen testicles and impotence

Superstar rapper Nicki Minaj generated a dizzying amount of social media buzz after following up her announcement that she wouldn't be getting vaccinated for the Met Gala with a personal story: A friend of her cousin in Trinidad developed swollen testicles and became impotent after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

"My cousin in Trinidad won’t get the vaccine cuz his friend got it & became impotent. His testicles became swollen," the tweet, posted the evening of Sept. 13, read. "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." 

The tweet has tens of thousands of Twitter users wondering what really happened, including Tucker Carlson, who read the tweet to viewers just a few hours after it was posted and aired a callout to the subject of the tweet on Sept. 14.

The story was also shared to other social media platforms, including in several widespread Instagram posts.

More:Trinidad's Health Minister shuts down Nicki Minaj's vaccine claim: 'No reported such side effect'

But if you're hoping to avoid the mystery man's fate, medical experts say you're better off getting the shot than rejecting it. 

While there's no evidence that the vaccine causes those symptoms, several studies have found COVID-19 can infect tissue in the testicles and penis, and it may have caused several cases of decreased sperm count and erectile dysfunction.

However, as several doctors noted in the replies to Minaj's tweet, this mystery person is likely dealing with a different condition.

"It’s very worrisome that something said in a tweet, with no ill intentions, can impact someone’s choice about getting vaccinated," Raven Baxter, a molecular biologist who replied to Minaj's tweet with a rap about how vaccines work, told USA TODAY in an email. "These vaccines are scientifically proven to be saving lives every day; the more people who get them, the better it is for all of us."

Fact check:COVID-19 vaccine protects both the person vaccinated and those around them

USA TODAY reached out to Minaj and users who shared the tweet for comment.

Rapper Nicki Minaj.

No evidence that vaccine causes impotence or swollen testicles

The identity of the man Minaj tweeted about remains unknown, but Trinidad & Tobago's health minister, Dr. Terrence Deyalsingh, said in a Sept. 15 news conference that no such case had been reported to his knowledge.

"What is sad about this is that it wasted our time yesterday trying to track this down," he said. 

Regardless, experts say the situation Minaj described is inconsistent with what we know after hundreds of millions of vaccines have been administered.

Scientists and medical professionals who have studied the COVID-19 vaccine in depth say that there is no evidence of a link between the vaccine and impotence or swollen testicles.

Physician of internal medicine Dr. Rodney Hood leads the National Medical Association's COVID-19 Task Force and other groups aiming to provide trusted, independent reviews of the vaccines to Black and underrepresented communities. He called the suggestion that the vaccine causes the symptoms in Minaj's tweet "a myth." 

"Millions of doses of vaccines have been given, and none of that has been reported as a potential side effect caused by the vaccine," he said.

Dr. Tom Shimabukuro, deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Immunization Safety Office, also told USA TODAY that scientists haven't found any evidence linking the symptoms in Minaj's tweet to the vaccine.

“There is no scientific evidence that COVID-19 vaccines cause impotence and swollen testicles,” he wrote in an email. "COVID-19 vaccines save lives." 

More:Does COVID-19 vaccine cause infertility in men? Study shows mRNA vaccines do not decrease sperm count

A peer-reviewed study from the University of Miami showed that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines do not affect sperm count, USA TODAY reported in June. 

"Swollen testicles and male infertility are definitely not potential or known side effects of any of the three COVID-19 vaccines that the FDA has authorized for emergency use in the USA," Dr. Matthew Laurens, an infectious disease specialist and vaccine researcher at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, wrote in an email to USA TODAY. "In fact, there is no evidence that any vaccine causes male fertility issues." 

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Nicki Minaj performs at the BET Awards at the Microsoft Theater on Sunday, June 24, 2018, in Los Angeles.

COVID-19 can cause erectile dysfunction, infect testes

So the vaccine has no link to infertility. But the virus it's helping prevent may, according to preliminary studies noted by Laurens and Hood.

"The vaccine will actually prevent you from getting a lot of the things that people are concerned with," Hood said. "To me, there (is more evidence of) complications and (sexual function) problems even after you get over the acute phase of COVID than any evidence that we have from the vaccine."

One study conducted this May at the University of Miami found that even men with mild COVID-19 symptoms could develop erectile dysfunction.

According to the study, otherwise healthy men developed impotency after COVID-19 infection made its way into their penile tissue. The scientists examined the tissue in two men who were undergoing penile prosthesis surgeries.

One of the men in the study had been hospitalized for COVID-19, but the other had experienced only mild symptoms, researchers said

As for testicular conditions, three different studies cited by Hood and Laurens have shown COVID-19 can infect the testes. That has the potential to negatively impact fertility, according to a report on one conducted at the University of Miami.

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Another study found decreased sperm counts in men who were infected with the virus, Laurens noted.

However, he said existing evidence on the link between COVID-19 and male infertility isn't yet conclusive.

"There is preliminary evidence that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can affect semen volume, sperm concentration and the number of spermatozoa," Laurens wrote. "Whether or not this translates into males who have COVID-19 experiencing fertility issues in the short or long-term is not yet known."

Our rating: Missing context

We rate the claim that the COVID-19 vaccine caused one man's swollen testicles and impotence MISSING CONTEXT, based on our research. Without knowing the specifics of the case Minaj described, it's not possible to know for sure what caused the symptoms. However, medical experts say there have been no reports linking the vaccine to swollen testicles and impotence.

Our fact-check sources:

Contributing: Miriam Fauzia

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