The ingredients in the COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. are publicly available. Yet a false claim that the vaccines contain microchips is receiving renewed attention through a spate of videos of people claiming that magnets stick to their arms after vaccination. Experts say none of the ingredients would cause this supposed effect.
Despite misconceptions about what is used to make COVID-19 vaccines, the ingredients for each vaccine authorized for emergency use in the U.S. are publicly available. As we’ve explained, readers can find the full ingredient list through Food and Drug Administration fact sheets for the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
But a false claim that arose well before the vaccines began to roll out — that the shots contain “microchips” — is spreading online once again, this time with help from a round of videos purporting to show evidence.
“Here’s the magnet. This is the arm I got the Pfizer shot in,” she says, placing what appears to be a small silver, circular magnet on her left arm. “And there it is.”
After it appears to stay in place, she then quickly hits the magnet against her other arm — “the arm that I didn’t get the shot” — and it falls to the ground. “You go figure it out. We’re chipped. We’re all f—ed.”
There’s a lot we don’t know about the various videos, including whether the people in the videos were vaccinated, what magnets might have been used and whether other substances were used to make the objects stick.
But there is no support for the false claim that the vaccines contain “microchips” or ingredients that would result in such a magnetic effect.
We’ve debunked several false claims regarding the COVID-19 vaccines and supposed microchips. In April 2020, a conspiracy theory misinterpreted projects done by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to erroneously suggest that Bill Gates planned to use COVID-19 vaccines to “track people.”
Similarly, in December, a video swirling on social media wrongly claimed the vaccines contained a microchip that “tracks the location of the patient.” In reality, the claim was a distortion about a proposed technology for use on plastic vials that would track vaccine doses — not people.
Now, the videos involving magnets add new fuel to the same false narrative.
Lisa Morici, an associate professor at the Tulane University School of Medicine who studies vaccines, emphasized in an email that the “ingredients in the mRNA and adenovirus vaccines are simply RNA/DNA, lipids, proteins, salts, and sugars.” (The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines use modified messenger RNA to provide instructions for cells to make spike proteins, while the J&J vaccine uses an adenovirus modified with DNA for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.)
“All of these components are found in numerous foods, vaccines, and medicines,” she said.
“The ‘microchip’ is of course a myth being spread on social media,” she said. “‘Micro’ refers to the size of the chip = microns in size, whereas the mRNA and adenovirus vaccines are nanoparticles, meaning nanometers in size. The vaccines are therefore 1000x smaller than a microchip and a microchip couldn’t fit in the vaccine.”
As for the notion that vaccines could be responsible for a magnetic effect, two experts we contacted said none of the ingredients for the three vaccines would cause this supposed result.
“In order for a regular magnet to stick to something else magnetically, the something else should either possess significant magnetic remanence (like another magnet), or relative magnetic permeability significantly exceeding unity (like many refrigerator doors),” Mark Allen, a professor of electrical and systems engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, said in an email. “According to the FDA fact sheets about the three FDA-authorized [COVID-19] vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna, J&J), none of the ingredients in any of the three vaccines contain any materials with these properties (significant magnetic remanence or relative magnetic permeability significantly exceeding unity.)”
He noted that “magnets wouldn’t stick to the silicon in silicon microchips either.” In short, he said: “Magnets won’t stick to you just because you have received a [COVID-19] vaccine.”
Randall Victora, head of the department of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Minnesota, further told us: “Although almost all materials are magnetic in the sense of paramagnetism, diamagnetism, and ferromagnetism, only a ferromagnet has the potential to make a magnet stick to your arm.”
Victora said “none of the listed ingredients in the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson and Johnson vaccines are a ferromagnet, and thus they cannot cause a magnet to stick to your arm. Incidentally, most microchips do not have ferromagnetic components either.”
In one video viewed more than 10,000 times on YouTube, a man visits a store in Chicago called American Science & Surplus and shows a package of “rare earth magnets” sticking to his left arm. He encourages others to visit the store to “do this magnet challenge.”
Kristina Apostolou, the assistant manager at the store, told us that the man visited the store on May 12 to tape his video but said she couldn’t say what caused the magnets to stick to his arm.
During our phone interview, Apostolou, who said she has not received a COVID-19 vaccine, and a colleague, who she said did receive a vaccine in recent days, both attempted to recreate the “magnet challenge” with the same package. But “neither of us had the effect,” she said.
In another video on YouTube, the same man seen in the Chicago shop claims to show magnets sticking not only to the arm that he says he received a vaccine in — but his other arm, too.
Gustav Kuhn, a psychology researcher at Goldsmiths, University of London, who studies magic and illusions — and the president of the Science of Magic Association — also reviewed a handful of the videos for us. “It’s difficult, if not impossible to know why the magnet sticks in these situations,” he said in an email.
That said, he noted that there are simple, known sleights of hand that are not too dissimilar. One could use an adhesive such as sticky tape to make something appear as a magnet. There’s also a trick in which one makes it appear that a coin sticks to their head.
“It doesn’t rely on magnets [or] sticky tape,” he said. “You just push the coin to your forehead. You can try it yourself.”
Editor’s note: SciCheck’s COVID-19/Vaccination Project is made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation has no control over our editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation. The goal of the project is to increase exposure to accurate information about COVID-19 and vaccines, while decreasing the impact of misinformation.
Allen, Mark. Professor of electrical and systems engineering, University of Pennsylvania. Email to FactCheck.org. 13 May 2021.
Apostolou, Kristina. Assistant manager, American Science & Surplus, Chicago, Ill. Phone interview with FactCheck.org. 13 May 2021.
Hale Spencer, Saranac. “Conspiracy Theory Misinterprets Goals of Gates Foundation.” FactCheck.org. 14 Apr 2020.
Hale Spencer, Saranac. “COVID-19 Vaccines Don’t Have Patient-Tracking Devices.” FactCheck.org. 15 Dec 2020.
“How do we know what ingredients are in a vaccine?” FactCheck.org. 4 Mar 2021.
“Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine EUA Fact Sheet for Recipients and Caregiver.” Food and Drug Administration. Revised 23 Apr 2021.
Kuhn, Gustav. Psychology researcher, University of London. Email to FactCheck.org. 13 May 2021.
“Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine EUA Fact Sheet for Recipients and Caregivers.” Food and Drug Administration. Revised 26 Mar 2021.
Morici, Lisa. Associate professor, Tulane University School of Medicine. Email to FactCheck.org. 11 May 2021.
“Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine EUA Fact Sheet for Recipients and Caregivers.” Food and Drug Administration. Revised 10 May 2021.
Victora, Randall. Head, department of electrical and computer engineering, University of Minnesota. Email to FactCheck.org. 11 May 2021.