While the COVID-19 pandemic is beginning to recede in much of the world, its parallel pandemic of conspiracy theories and hoaxes continues to robustly infect the minds of people everywhere. And the vaccines helping to make life something close to normal again have been the subject of just as many conspiracy theories and hoaxes as the virus itself.
The latest hoax making the rounds on social media is that receiving any of the available vaccines suddenly gives one the ability to make magnets stick to their skin. Users on TikTok, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms are “sharing their truth” that after their jab, they can now attach magnets to the arm where they got the shot. They’re going so far as to make videos showing their newly acquired magnetic properties, challenging others to do the same.
Like all conspiracy theories, the details vary, and aren’t especially relevant because they’re made up. But the bottom line for “vaccine magnet” conspiracists is that they believe they were injected not with something that would protect them from the worst of COVID-19’s many and severe symptoms, but with something that has fundamentally altered their body chemistry to the point where magnets stick to them. Is it metallic nanoparticles? Is it a microchip designed to track their movements? Is it something worse, meant to sap their health and sicken them even more? And do vaccines actually magnetize people?
The magnet theory is a fairly recent addition to the lexicon of COVID-19 vaccine conspiracies. Its first brush with virality appears to be a May 9 Facebook post by “kristopher.columbus.37,” a user whose timeline is full of similar conspiracy theories about cryptocurrency, Freemasons, and jet fuel being a hoax. The video is less than 30 seconds and features a woman in a tank top and mask sticking a metallic object about the size of a quarter to the arm she claims she got the Pfizer vaccine in, with a similar magnetic object falling off her unvaccinated arm, proclaiming that she’s “chipped.”
More videos followed, showing people claiming to stick metallic objects or magnets (most didn’t specify exactly what they were) to the arms where they were vaccinated. They played off existing fears of COVID-19 vaccines being loaded up with tracking chips by Bill Gates, so people could be tracked or eventually killed off. But here, seemingly, was incontrovertible visual proof that the conspiracy theories were right, and that people who’d gotten the vaccine had been “chipped” in exactly the way “researchers” had been fearing for a year.
And the videos took off, with several getting six figures in views on Instagram and TikTok before being pulled down, and countless other mentions on Twitter. Compilations of magnets sticking to vaccinated people started showing up on video sites like BitChute. A “vaccine magnet challenge” even took off, with users showing how they’d been injected with enough metal to make various small magnets stick to them, daring other people to find vaccinated relatives and “get them to try it.” Finally, the conspiracy theory hit the late-night TV circuit, with Jimmy Kimmel declaring believers to be “magnet morons.”
Anyone who tries the “vaccine magnet challenge” in good faith is going to be disappointed. Vaccines don’t work like that, magnets don’t work like that, and vaccines combined with magnets don’t work like that.
We all contain minute amounts of iron that repels magnetism when combined with water, which is the basis for how Magnetic Resonance Imaging works. But the amount of metal that a vaccine would have to contain to actually attract a magnet through skin is about a gram, according to a Trinity College physics professor who spoke to Reuters. There’s no scientifically sound reason to include that much metal in a vaccine, and it would easily be felt by anyone injected with it, likely causing some kind of lump along with intense pain. It would also physically be impossible, because COVID vaccine doses are 0.3 to 0.5 milliliters in volume, almost all of which is water. One gram equals one milliliter, so there is literally not enough volume in the vaccine injection to contain the needed iron to attract a magnet and still hold the water needed to make up the bulk of the vaccine.
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Vaccines do contain minute amounts of aluminum salts, and have since the 1930s—to activate a stronger immune response. But aluminum isn’t magnetic, and even if it were, the amount of aluminum in a vaccine injection is far less than what we take in every day just by breathing. Finally, if people around the world were being injected with grams of iron, there would be far more videos going around showing its painful and obvious physical effects.
So if the magnets aren’t “sticking” to metallic particles unnaturally injected into our bodies, could they be sticking to microchips? Putting aside that vaccines don’t actually contain microchips (which are far too large to include in a vaccine injection), microchips don’t attract magnets because they don’t have anywhere near enough magnet-attracting metal in them—only silicon, copper, and trace amounts of precious metals like gold and palladium. And none of these are magnetic, either. Running a magnet over a microchip will do absolutely nothing. And powerful magnets can even damage electronic devices.
Ultimately, there’s no magnetic or magnet-attracting property to anything that could plausibly be in a vaccine. A vaccine dose will not cause magnets to stick to you, only lessen the effects of COVID-19. And yet the videos show just the opposite. So what’s really going on here?
Human magnetism, or the ability of certain people to get metal objects to stick to them thanks to what they claim are unusually powerful magnetic fields, has been a hallmark of pseudoscience and hoaxes for generations. All manner of cranks and quacks have gotten publicity with their claims that they can get large numbers of spoons, nails, and hammers to attach to their skin. And for just as long, skeptics have been debunking these claims. “Vaccine magnet” claims are simply a reverse of these—alleging not that they attract metal objects through natural magnetism, but that they’ve become magnetic themselves thanks to the unnatural properties of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Both iterations of the claims are easily explained, though. Human skin is naturally sticky thanks to the grease and oil we extrude. A small object can easily latch on to smooth, oily skin and appear to be “stuck” there through magnetism—and the “magnetism” can be eliminated merely by removing the oil or grease from the skin. Moving the “magnetic” body part to an angle where the object will drop off or adding some kind of barrier to it sticking also proves it isn’t really magnetic. Famed skeptic James Randi did just that, publicly debunking the claims of one such “magnet man” by simply using talcum powder to coarsen a man’s genetically sticky skin, and doing the same thing with other “human magnetism” claims. None of them stood up to the talcum powder challenge.
Because there are so many “vaccine magnet challenge” videos, it’s impossible to debunk each one. Fortunately, there’s no need to run out and buy mass quantities of talcum powder. Like all videos purporting to show something extraordinary, their makers have extremely high bars to clear in order to prove their claims. Challenge takers have to prove they were injected with material that would attract a magnet, and demonstrate that the magnet wasn’t sticking to them through other means—such as glue, tape, or the aforementioned oily skin. Beyond that, we don’t see all the videos where vaccine skeptics try to attach magnets to their “vaccine chipped” arms, only to have them fall off. We see the ones that succeed—a self-selecting bias that makes any kind of controlled study of the phenomenon impossible.
Ultimately, “vaccine magnet challenge” videos are just another in the endless string of hoaxes and conspiracy theories trying to convince us that COVID-19 is a hoax, vaccines are the real virus, and only a select few truthtellers know what’s “really going on.” With the vaccines reducing hospitalizations and deaths in most parts of the world, we need fewer fake reasons not to get the vaccine and more reminders that vaccines work, that they don’t come loaded with iron lumps or microchips, and that they don’t make you attract magnets.