UPDATED: 8:30 a.m. ET, Oct . 7
Originally published Sept. 14
Public health officials have said they need all hands on deck to promote the COVID-19 vaccine. But when those hands are attached to celebrities’ Twitter fingers, there’s no telling what kind of messages about the pandemic, let alone the vaccine, will be posted for their legions of loyal followers to heed blindly.
And while prominent right-wing, conservative Republicans who are white have largely been the face of COVID-19 misinformation and vaccine hesitancy and skepticism, lately, there is a growing number of notable Black people have been similarly embracing a school of thought that questions not only the vaccine but also its true intentions, its effectiveness as well as the possibility of life-altering side effects; suspicions that have been widely and readily debunked as conspiracy theories.
Athletes and entertainers who have millions of fans around the world have especially revealed themselves to be among the most outspoken when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine. But it’s far from just limited to them, as there are Black politicians, public figures and celebrities who are equally doing their part to cast doubt on the vaccine, which public health officials say is crucial to bringing the pandemic under control.
In a similar yet decidedly different instance of the type of influence a celebrity and well-known people can wield, it wasn’t that long ago when then-lame duck President Donald Trump and his cronies inspired a throng of angry and violent white supremacists to illegally break into the U.S. Capitol in a deadly act of treason. It was all based on misinformation that spread a “big lie.”
It’s a little bit more complicated with similarly well-known people refusing to endorse the vaccine. Yes, like Jan. 6, their followers are listening and likely ready to heed their word, no matter how flawed. But unlike Jan. 6, the vaccine skepticism knows no political boundary. White conservatives may be the face of anti-vaxxers, but the truth is there are plenty of Black folks who are just as hesitant — albeit likely not solely for politically motivated for reasons.
A lot of those Black folks are highly recognizable and influential people, something that makes their hesitance to endorse the COVID-19 vaccine that much more confounding for public health officials urging vaccinations at all cost.
But in the COVID-19 era with an unprecedented pandemic that is killing people of all ages and backgrounds and social statuses, the words about the vaccine from these famous Black folks may hit their fans and supporters a little different and allow them to more readily accept misinformation without doing any research for themselves.
This below list couldn’t possibly document every single instance of a notable Black person who won’t publicly endorse the COVID-19 vaccine. Still, it would be naive to underestimate the reach of their collective words, no matter the topic.
1. Letitia WrightSource:Getty
She was also allegedly spreading anti-vaxx views on the set of Black Panther 2 and also parted ways with her entire U.S. team of representatives after receiving backlash for retweeting an anti-vaxxer youtube video.
shared an hour-long video made by Tomi Arayomi, a self-described “prophet” and “Managing Director of Prophetic Voice TV – An online mission that seeks to restore the ability to hear the voice of God to every person on every sphere of influence.”
In the video, Arayomi openly stated that while he’s not a medical expert, he felt compelled to question the safety of the vaccine.
“I don’t understand vaccines medically, but I’ve always been a little bit of a skeptic of them,” he said.
“We can just get that (the vaccine) out there and hope it doesn’t make extra limbs grow, hope to god you don’t develop children that have 11 fingers and 12 toes, we are hoping for the best. We have seen vaccines do damage before,” he continued.
Wright also tweeted a response that further angered her critics and some of her supporters.
“If you don’t conform to popular opinions, but ask questions and think for yourself….you get cancelled,” she wrote.
2. Kyrie IrvingSource:Getty
Kyrie Irving refused to disclose his vaccination status during the Brooklyn Nets’ media day, which he attended via ZOOM because of NBA COVID protocols. If Irving is not vaccinated by the start of the season, he may not be able to play at any home games in Brooklyn due to the city’s vaccine mandates.
Other cities with similar mandates include San Fransisco, which is home to the Golden State Warriors.
3. Laila AliSource:Getty
Laila Ali, the retired world champion boxer and daughter of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, encouraged her Instagram followers to “do your own research” on the COVID-19 vaccine while casting doubt on it.
“People don’t seem to understand that just [because] some folks don’t wear masks, don’t want the shot, don’t listen to media or live in fear…it doesn’t mean they don’t ‘believe’ the virus is real or think they can’t get it!” Ali posted. “They know it was created to harm humanity.”
“They simply choose to build up and trust their own immune system like they have been doing all their life,” Ali’s loud and wrong post continued. “If they get it, they will deal with it!! It’s a God given choice. I know, this kind of faith is impossible for some to comprehend. But lean not on your own understanding.
“Before you claim they are ‘putting others in danger,’ you should do your own research to learn that’s actually true. You can’t change anyone but yourself, so YOU DO YOU!”
Editor’s note: She is wrong.
4. Kent BazemoreSource:Getty
Kent Bazemore, who plays for the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, has made no secret that he is against the COVID-19 vaccine. He has said he doesn’t need it because he’s already hyper-aware of his health.
“I do everything I can to strengthen my immune system, with hours upon hours of cooking, preparing my meals at home, really being conscious of what I put in my body and taking care of my health,” Bazemore said in March. “My family has a history of heart disease and all these different things, and I’m trying to turn that around for my lineage. So, I’m taking it upon myself to do everything I can to keep my immune system strong and live a healthy and long life.”
Specifically, Bazemore said “no” when asked directly if he would get vaccinated, attributing his decision to “a lifestyle thing.”
5. Trey BurkeSource:Getty
NBA player Trey Burke revealed himself to be against vaccinations and made no secret about it on his Instagram stories.
“F*ck a vaccination,” Burke’s Instagram Stories began. “Tryna kill us YOU [emoji eyes] you crazy you think otherwise!”
He continued by telling his followers to “Pick a side” before explaining that he would rather put his faith in his religion. “I choose the Most High through Christ could careless [sic] what the world think [shrugging emoji].”
Burke went on to suggest he didn’t care what anybody thought about his opinion on getting vaccinated, something he likened to radio-frequency identification (RFID) — tracking devices — that by definition uses “electronic tags placed on objects, people, or animals to relay identifying information to an electronic reader by means of radio waves.” Burke said “RFID in full effect and they ready to implement!”
6. Busta RhymesSource:Getty
While rapper Busta Rhymes didn’t expressly address the COVID-19 vaccine, he certainly didn’t have anything kind to say about “these little weird-ass government policies and mandates” during a live show.
It should be noted that the performance took place as COVID-19 vaccine mandates began getting put in place on state and national levels.
The larger implication of Busta’s largely anti-mask rant was that he was against anything that would “take our civil liberties away,” rhetoric that is popular with right-wing conservatives.
7. Herman CainSource:Getty
Cain was hospitalized in Atlanta on July 1, just two days after testing positive for COVID-19. Less than two weeks before receiving his diagnosis, Cain attended a Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He tweeted a picture of himself at the event and he was surrounded by other attendees, none of whom were wearing a mask or protective gear in the photo. “Here’s just a few of the #BlackVoicesForTrump at tonight’s rally! Having a fantastic time,” he wrote in the tweet.
8. Wayne Dupree, right-wing talk show hostSource:Twitter.com/WayneDupreeShow
Wayne Dupree, whose eponymous show and decidedly right-wing online platform have a wide-ranging reach, recently said in a series of tweets that he has been “battling COVID-like” symptoms over the course of a number of days.
Dupree has expressed anti-vaccine sentiment to his viewers and social media followers and suggested it’s better to treat COVID-19 symptoms with “vitamins C, D, zinc, orange and pineapple juice, soup etc.” than to be vaccinated against the virus.
9. Larry ElderSource:Getty
California gubernatorial recall candidate Larry Elder has adopted every political stance that his fellow Republicans have embraced, including and especially disavowing the vaccine except in rare instances.
He has definitely been guilty of spreading misinformation about the vaccine when he suggested that young people do not need it. He has said he is “not anti-vax,” but his actions — including promising to eliminate vaccine mandates if he is elected — suggest otherwise.
10. Louis FarrakhanSource:Getty
Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan warned Black people about the COVID-19 vaccine as it was being produced before it was even available to the public.
Delivering a speech called “The Criterion” and about the state of Black America, he cited the country’s shaky medical history with its non-white citizens as a reason to be skeptical of “their medications” to treat an illness that has disproportionately affected Black people.
“I say to my brothers and sisters in Africa…if they come up with a vaccine, be careful,” Farrakhan said before expanding his warning to include Black people in the United States, as well.
“Do not take their medications. We need to call a meeting of our skilled virologists, epidemiologists, and students of biology and chemistry,” Farrakhan implored. “We need to give ourselves something better. There are 14 therapies we can treat it with. The virus is a pestilence from Heaven. The only way to stop it is going to heaven.”
11. Thomas ‘The Hitman’ HearnsSource:Getty
Boxing legend Thomas “Hitman” Hearns revealed himself to be an anti-vaxxer before the death of following boxing champion, Marvin Hagler.
Hearns wrote in a social media post without proof prior to Hagler’s death that his former boxing rival was suffering health problems due to “the vaccine,” using an exclamation mark for emphasis.
“He’s in ICU fighting the after effects of the vaccine!” Hearns claimed in the post without offering any evidence.
Hearns later deleted the post.
Hagler’s wife later announced that it “wasn’t the vaccine” that caused her husband’s death.
12. Dwight HowardSource:Getty
NBA star Dwight Howard has said publicly that he doesn’t believe in any vaccine, let alone the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Do I believe in vaccinations?” he asked during an Instagram Live session. “No, I don’t. That’s my personal opinion, but no, I don’t.”
Well, that settles that.
13. DJ Maseo from De La SoulSource:Getty
Maseo, founding member and DJ for famed hip-hop group, De La Soul, made very clear through a series of social media posts that was adamantly against being vaccinated.
One post brought attention to the history of medical mistreatment against Black people in America. He captioned it by writing, “This dedicated to those that tried to ridicule me for my thoughts about the vaccine.”
Months later, he posted a video deriding a social media challenge for a “COVID Vaccine Magnet” that was shown sticking to a person’s arm where they got vaccinated, implying that the vaccine itself possesses magnetic qualities (it does not).
In that instance, Mase wrote, “I don’t care what anyone decides just don’t be mad at me because I decide ‘not’ to take the vaccine.”
14. Nicki MinajSource:Getty
Rapper Nicki Minaj got pretty creative with her reason for why she stated that she was against the COVID-19 vaccine.
She tweeted to her 2.6 million Twitter followers a story she said her cousin told her about his friend in Trinidad who became “impotent” and suffered “swollen testicles” as a result of getting vaccinated.
Minaj advised her followers to not be “bullied” into getting vaccinated.
“So just pray on it & make sure you’re comfortable with ur decision,” she tweeted.
15. Cam NewtonSource:Getty
While free-agent NFL player Cam Newton may or may not be anti-vaccine, he most certainly was not vaccinated as of late August, when the New England Patriots cut him from playing in a league that has been flirting with a vaccine mandate.
16. Candace OwensSource:Getty
Candace Owens has bragged about traveling internationally for months and sleeping next to her husband after he tested positive for COVID-19 without contracting the coronavirus and called herself a “scientific miracle” who is “proud” to go unvaccinated and repeatedly questioned the COVID-19 vaccine’s effectiveness and worth.
Republicans love the way she tap dances to that song.
17. Pete RockSource:Getty
Legendary hip-hop producer Pete Rock has repeatedly questioned the COVID-19 vaccine, including the one time he memorably challenged the logic behind getting vaccinated.
“Vaccine shit is real stupid,” he tweeted. “How you giving vaccine to people who arent sick???”
He later doubled-down on his skepticism because fully vaccinated people were still testing positive for the coronavirus.
“Say what you want about that vaccine! Its not protecting you from covid-19,” he tweeted without adding the context that vaccinations increase protection but are not guaranteed to prevent one.
He added later: “The vaccine dont protect you so why should we take it??”
A week later, Pete posted a meme suggesting that the vaccine causes blood clots that Instagram flagged as “false information.”
18. Kanye WestSource:Getty
Kanye West showed his penchant for pushing conspiracy theories when he gave his reason for why he was against the COVID-19 vaccine.
“It’s so many of our children that are being vaccinated and paralyzed… So when they say the way we’re going to fix covid is with a vaccine, I’m extremely cautious. That’s the mark of the beast,” the rapper explained.
He later added: “They want to put chips inside of us, they want to do all kinds of things to make it where we can’t cross the gates of heaven.”
19. Andrew WigginsSource:Getty
Andrew Wiggins, a star with the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, is reportedly among the small fraction of NBA players refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19. His decision could mean he will not be eligible this upcoming 2021-22 season to play home games in San Francisco, where there is a vaccine mandate.
Ninety percent of NBA players are vaccinated, according to a new report. That means Wiggins is one of about 50 out of about 500 NBA players to decide against getting vaccinated.
Wiggins could reportedly seek a religious exemption for playing without being vaccinated. His reasons for not getting vaccinated were not immediately clear.