By mid-May 2021, more than one-third of Americans were fully vaccinated to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Meanwhile, anti-vaccine groups accelerated their sensational and often factually vulnerable campaigns to try to stop the remaining population from accepting the shots.
Those efforts often repeated unfounded conspiracy theories that COVID-19 vaccine administrators were secretly inoculating people with miniature devices to actively track their locations or to connect 5G broadband cellular networks. For example, as of this writing, social media users were circulating a handful of videos allegedly showing magnets sticking to vaccine patients' arms, which some framed as evidence of the "microchip" scheme.
For example, one viral video (a screenshot of which is displayed below) showed a woman in a tank top placing an item about the size of a coin on her upper left bicep to purportedly reveal an under-skin magnetic force.
"WE'RE CHIPPED AND WE'RE ALL FUCKED!" a Facebook caption read. "Magnet appears to stick to embedded chip following shot."
Other footage — including a TikTok video supposedly featuring a "Baby Yoda" (aka "Grogu") magnet sticking to a vaccine recipient's arm — circulated widely around the same time. TikTok eventually removed that clip, and other social media sites such as Instagram and Facebook placed content warnings on similar videos to avoid confusing people about the real effects of the innoculations.
The underlying claim was false. Regardless of the brand (such as Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson), no COVID-19 vaccine contains radio-frequency identification chips or other types of magnetic devices as part of a nefarious plan to implant people with technology against their will. That said, below, we lay out what likely happened in the videos ostensibly showing magnets stuck on people's arms.
First, though, we reached out to the apparent creator of the video featuring the Baby Yoda magnet, as well as several other social media accounts that promoted the theory, to learn their motivations for sharing the content. We have not received any responses yet, but we will update this report when, or if, that changes.
In other words, we did not have the answers to questions regarding the alleged magnets in the videos. Specifically, were they actually little items made of materials such as iron, steel, nickel that attracted other magnets? It was unknown.
It is also worth mentioning that no proof was offered in the videos that the objects were magnets or that the people depicted had actually received a COVID-19 vaccine.
Next, we considered a hypothetical: What would human skin do, or look like, if a magnetic object existed underneath it?
Reuters published the below-displayed photograph in 2011 showing the force of a magnet lifting the skin of someone who had a metallic object inside them. Dr. Robert Brodell, who co-authored a study exploring the question at the time, described the image as the skin creating a "tent" upward toward the magnet.
No one depicted in the popular videos about COVID-19 vaccines seemingly had their skin "tent" like the above-displayed photograph — at least based on the angles from which those clips were recorded.
Next, we considered another theoretical scenario based on the conspiracy theory's premise. If the shots included metallic ingredients to create a magnetic pull, wouldn't people who are allergic to those materials endure physical reactions, such as itchy, blistering, or dry skin?
According to a study of metal allergies published in the National Library of Medicine, scientists estimated that up to 17% of all women and 3% of men are allergic to nickel, while a smaller percentage is allergic to cobalt and chromium.
Based on those estimates — and if, hypothetically speaking, the vaccines included metallic ingredients — a sizable proportion of vaccine recipients would report rashes or skin irritations. That, however, was not the case, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) list of common possible side effects.
Lastly, to fully substantiate our conclusion, we considered the ingredients of COVID-19 vaccines, which are listed and approved by the Federal Drug Administration (Pfizer here, Moderna here, and Johnson & Johnson here. Also, here's a helpful explainer of the Pfizer vaccine's ingredients by MIT Technology Review, as well as a breakdown by the New Jersey-based Hackensack Meridian Health.)
We and experts concluded no COVID-19 vaccine formulas included metal ingredients or any amount of biological material required to do what the videos alleged. For example, Edward Hutchinson, a lecturer with the Centre for Virus Research at Scotland's University of Glasgow, told us via email:
"[You] would need to introduce a large lump of magnetic material beneath the skin to get the action through the skin that the videos claim to show (if you want to give this a go, try getting a fridge magnet to pick up anything, particularly tiny bits of metal, through the skin between your thumb and index finger)."
Furthermore, Al Edwards, an associate professor in biomedical technology from the University of Reading in England, said the human body is comprised of the same type of biological materials in the vaccine formulas.
"There is nothing magnetic in vaccine formulations, most of what is injected is extremely pure water, plus some simple salts to make the injection less painful, and an absolutely tiny amount of vaccine," he wrote Snopes. "Most food is made of similar molecules, and eating food doesn't make people magnetic."
In sum, while the videos did not depict authentic effects of COVID-19 vaccines, the reasons for why the alleged "magnets" seemingly stayed on people's arms were unclear. More plausible than the microchip conspiracy theory were the possibilities that people positioned their arms in away to avoid the items' gravitational pull downwards or used items that stuck to people's skin for reasons other than a magnetic pull. For those reasons, we rate this claim "False."