BACKGROUND: As the COVID-19 pandemic became increasingly politicized and as vaccines started rolling out, vaccine conspiracy theories populated the internet and gained traction. One of the more popular conspiracies was that the vaccine injected a tracking microchip that made people magnetic and allowed the government, and elites such as Bill Gates, track those who were vaccinated. Rumors about Bill Gates spread in March 2020 when Gates mentioned rolling out an initiative that would have digital certificates of vaccines, COVID-19 tests, and recoveries. It is important to note that the potential technologies referenced by Bill Gates are entirely different from the vaccine and are not a source of tracking either. When the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was approached with these rumors, they staunchly denied them, saying that the claim was false. In our time discussing this claim with Merad, she explained that this rumor, at its core, is cynicism. Merad elaborated by saying that Bill Gates has nothing to gain from contorting vaccines, especially because he stepped up to facilitate vaccine distribution in other countries.
Dr. Martin Herrmann, the medical director of Mayo Clinic in Waseca and New Prague, explained that these assertions are false. Herrmann assured that there is no way for the vaccine to track people or gather personal information. It is simply an mRNA vaccine that instructs cells in one’s body how to make a protein that will aid the body in triggering an immune response if in contact with COVID-19. The sole purpose of COVID-19 vaccines is to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to lower hospitalization rates and death rates due to the virus.
Though rumors about vaccines containing microchips have been firmly debunked, this conspiracy theory still circulates around the internet. According to CNBC, 1,500 American adults were asked if they believed that the U.S. government was using the COVID-19 vaccine to microchip the population, 5% of them said yes. COVID-19 vaccines are administered with needles that have an internal diameter of about 0.26 to 0.41 millimeters. A microchip is seldom smaller than a penny and it is important to recognize that chips necessitate power sources in order to use tracking functionality, making it virtually impossible for a theoretical microchip to have tracking functionality.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
Vaccine hesitancy, especially as it relates to government surveillance, is understandable. For years, marginalized communities have been targets of unjustified surveillance, but rest assured, the COVID-19 vaccine is not surveillance technology. In order to dispel this rumor, it is important to understand the facts behind what is in the COVID-19 vaccine, especially as it relates to the rumor that the vaccine contains a microchip.
To begin with, the ingredients in COVID-19 vaccines are not dangerous; the ingredients (fats, sugars, salts) used are present in many foods. Each vaccine manufacturer has their own list of ingredients. COVID-19 vaccines do NOT contain ingredients such as preservatives, tissues, antibiotics, food proteins, medicines, latex, or metals.
Merad explains that the goal right now, in the midst of a booster vaccine campaign, is to “make the mRNA stay long enough and not be degraded…so the protein can go and stimulate an immune response.” The immune response is how the COVID-19 vaccine works because it teaches your immune system to defend your body through producing antibodies and these antibodies are what protect us from the COVID-19 infection. Essentially, these antibodies block the virus from entering by engaging with the virus and preventing entry from other cells. The antibody quite literally covers the protein that is used to bind the receptor and enter the cell. Merad asserts that the vaccine is effective and the data exists to prove its effectiveness, but she also made a point to discuss the side effects of the vaccine. “As is the case with any vaccine or medicine…there is a risk of an over immune reaction.” Merad explains that hundreds of millions of people have been vaccinated and we know the side effects so we are able to prepare people to experience them and also treat them. The benefits outweigh the risks; dealing with mild side effects for a short period of time can save someone’s life if they are infected with COVID-19.