In 2018, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla mentioned a pill that had been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration a few months prior that contained a digital sensor that could track whether or not the medicine had been taken. This product was approved for the treatment of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Contrary to online rumors, this comment was completely unrelated to vaccines or the COVID-19 pandemic.
In December 2021, a video supposedly showing Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla talking about microchips in the COVID-19 vaccine started to circulate on social media. A number of social media users posted this video with a copied and pasted piece of text that read: "Pfizer CEO Bourla talking about the microchip that will be in medications. Sounds normal right?? Just a conspiracy theory?? #Pfizer #Vaccines."
This video was taken in 2018, years before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and has nothing to do with COVID-19 vaccines.
This video was taken during the World Economic Forum in 2018. A guest asked the panel about how medical professionals could better engage with patients, noting that even if they made the best medicine that there was "no guarantee that the patient was going to take the drug." Bourla responded by saying that the FDA had recently approved a pill that contained a digital sensor which could track if the medicine had been ingested.
Bourla said: "Maybe I will use an example. I think it is fascinating what is happening in this field right now. The FDA approved the first electronic pill, if I can call it that, it's basically a biological chip that is in the tablet and once you take the table it sends a signal that you took the tablet. Imagine the implications of that compliance. The insurance companies can know that the medicines that patients should take they do take them. It is fascinating what happens in this field."
Bourla appears to be referring to Abilify MyCite, an aripiprazole tablet with a sensor that detects when a pill has been ingested that was approved by the FDA a few months before this video was taken.
Regarding the tablet, the FDA wrote in a release:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today approved the first drug in the U.S. with a digital ingestion tracking system. Abilify MyCite (aripiprazole tablets with sensor) has an ingestible sensor embedded in the pill that records that the medication was taken. The product is approved for the treatment of schizophrenia, acute treatment of manic and mixed episodes associated with bipolar I disorder and for use as an add-on treatment for depression in adults.
The system works by sending a message from the pill’s sensor to a wearable patch. The patch transmits the information to a mobile application so that patients can track the ingestion of the medication on their smart phone. Patients can also permit their caregivers and physician to access the information through a web-based portal.
“Being able to track ingestion of medications prescribed for mental illness may be useful for some patients,” said Mitchell Mathis, M.D., director of the Division of Psychiatry Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “The FDA supports the development and use of new technology in prescription drugs and is committed to working with companies to understand how technology might benefit patients and prescribers.”
Bourla was not talking about vaccines, he was not talking about COVID-19, and he was not talking about microchips. The CEO of Pfizer was talking about a new product that could help mental illness patients and caregivers track when medication had been ingested.
The full exchange can be viewed below, starting at the 45:20 mark:
This clip was widely shared on social media as if it contained some sort of "gotcha" moment proving that the conspiratorial notion that the vaccines contain microchips is real. If Bourla was talking about microchips in medicine in 2018, the flawed argument holds, then of course they're being added to the COVID-19 vaccines.
There are a number of flaws in this argument. For starters, Bourla was not talking about "microchips." While "microchip" has become a bit of an all-encompassing term, it is generally used in conspiracy theory contexts to refer to a "tracking device" that has been secretly inserted into an unwilling individual. But that's not the case here. This sensor does not track a person's whereabouts or do anything other than send an alert to a phone that a medicine has been ingested.
These conspiracy theories often hinge on notions of secrecy and underhanded plots, yet the evidence provided tends to point back to publicly available FDA news releases. In the video above, for example, Bourla is talking about a product that was approved by the FDA. The FDA has also issued releases regarding the COVID-19 vaccine, and none of those make any mention of microchips. You can read more about the ingredients in the COVID-19 vaccines in a previous article.
Furthermore, the fact that microchips and biosensors exist is not proof that they exist in COVID-19 vaccine. In the video above, Bourla is simply discussing a recent development in the biosensor field. This is not evidence that biosensors are also in the COVID-19 vaccine and in the video above Bourla makes no such claim.