Unsupported: The social media posts do not present supporting evidence for the claim that mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines will use hydrogels.
Misleading: The claim describes hydrogels as a recent groundbreaking invention, however, they were discovered decades ago and have been extensively used in biomaterial and biomedical research.
FULL CLAIM: Hydrogels are part of the genome-modifying COVID-19 mRNA vaccines' delivery system; hydrogels will connect you to the internet
Social media posts started circulating on 16 September 2020 claiming that hydrogels will be used for COVID-19 vaccines and for disease-detecting sensors that connect a person’s body to the internet. Hydrogels are hydrophilic chains of molecules that swell in presence of water. Many of them are biocompatible and therefore, are extensively used for biomedical and bioengineering research. The posts further stated that the hydrogel-based mRNA vaccines would modify the genome of vaccinated individuals.
It is inaccurate to claim that COVID-19 mRNA vaccines will genetically modify the human genome. Some vaccine candidates currently being tested indeed use a novel or unconventional approach, as they are based on the injection of viral mRNA. The vaccine is made of a mRNA containing the genetic information to express a specific protein of SARS-CoV-2. These mRNA-based vaccines cannot modify a person’s genome that receives the vaccine, as Health Feedback explained in a previous review. Briefly, mRNAs are short-lived and will only last for a short time in the patient’s cells, after which mRNAs are degraded and removed from the cell. In addition, the human genome is made of DNA, which is chemically different from RNA. This chemical difference prevents the mRNA from directly integrating into the human genome.
In addition, the claim that hydrogels are part of the ingredients in COVID-19 vaccines is unsupported by any evidence. Hydrogel-based implants can be harnessed for local drug delivery and could theoretically also be used to administer a vaccine locally. However, the conventional route of administration for mRNA-based vaccines is intramuscular injection, which allows the vaccine to reach all parts of the body in a systemic manner and is preferred over local administration.
The post also states that Profusa, a private company, is developing a disease-sensing hydrogel-based device that may connect one’s body to the internet. Although Profusa is working on injectable hydrogel-based sensors to detect flu infections these sensors do not connect to the internet. These hydrogel-based sensors monitor changes in local oxygen levels in body tissues. Profusa hypothesized that such changes in oxygen levels could indicate a flu infection. The sensors are embedded 4 millimeters under the skin and emit a dim fluorescence when the local amount of oxygen changes. The fluorescence is detected by an electronic patch placed on the patient’s skin, which then forwards the information to a nearby computer.
Contrary to the claim, hydrogels do not connect to the internet. The sensors developed by Profusa are only able to detect oxygen levels and do not indiscriminately collect health data. The fluorescence emitted by Profusa’s hydrogel can only be detected at millimetric range by the detector. The fact that both an electronic patch and a nearby computer are necessary for this connection to take place also undermines the use of such technology for unsolicited health data monitoring.
In addition, the claim presents hydrogels as an innovative technology “involving nanobots”. However, hydrogels have actually been known for decades and are extensively used for research and for biomedical applications. For example, hydrogel is commonly used in making contact lenses. The hydrogel used in Profusa oxygen sensors is pHEMA (2-hydroxyethyl methacrylate). pHEMA was first synthesized in 1936 and has been extensively used and studied since then.
In summary, the claim inaccurately states that COVID-19 mRNA-based vaccines can modify the human genome and that hydrogels can connect to the internet. There is also no scientific evidence to support the claim that hydrogels will be used to administer COVID-19 vaccines.
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