Social media posts circulating worldwide have shared a document they falsely claim shows Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine contains graphene oxide, a substance that has become the subject of anti-vaccine misinformation. But experts told AFP the document shared in the posts is unrelated to the Pfizer vaccine’s ingredients. Its components are public and a spokesman for the pharmaceutical giant said graphene oxide is not used in the manufacture of its vaccines.
“Pfizer admits in its own document that the vaccine contains Graphene Oxide,” says this Indonesian-language post on Twitter, uploaded on March 22, 2023.
The tweet features a link to a website sharing purported Pfizer files and a video on how to download one of the documents.
The one-minute video shows a document with the Pfizer logo, dated December 27, 2020 and titled: “Structural and biophysical characterization of SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein (P2 S) as a vaccine antigen” (archived link).
The word “graphene oxide” is highlighted on page 7 of the document, after the heading “3.4 Cryo-EM of P2 S”.
Both graphene oxide and graphene have been the subjects of vaccine misinformation. AFP has previously debunked claims that Covid-19 vaccines contain either of the materials, such as here, here, here and here.
The claim, however, is false.
“There is no graphene oxide in the vaccines (or any vaccine to my knowledge),” Gideon Kersten, professor of vaccine development at Leiden University in the Netherlands, told AFP on March 31, 2023 (archived link).
The European Medicine Agency “has not seen any credible evidence from its evaluations or from ongoing testing that any COVID-19 vaccine is contaminated with graphene oxide, which is not a recognised excipient in medicines”, its spokesman Alessandro Faia said to AFP on March 29, 2023.
When contacted by AFP on March 22, 2023, a Pfizer spokesperson said that “graphene oxide is not used in the manufacture of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine”, pointing to the “full list” of its vaccine’s ingredients (archived link).
The Pfizer spokesperson neither confirmed nor denied the authenticity of the document.
However, the full sentence on page 7 of the document actually reads: “For TwinStrep-tagged P2 S, 4 μL purified protein at 0.5 mg/mL were applied to gold Quantifoil R1.2/1.3 300 mesh grids freshly overlaid with graphene oxide.”
Experts told AFP this is not related to the components of Pfizer’s vaccine but to a technique for studying the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.
Santiago Mirazo, an Uruguayan virologist, said what the document refers to is a method called cryo-electron microscopy, which is widely used in biology, biophysics and biochemistry (archived links here and here ).
“Very small graphene oxide grids are used where the protein is placed and then electron microscopy is performed. It has been demonstrated that this material improves the capacity to define that structure, but not only the spike protein, but any protein,” Mirazo explained.
Mirazo said the protein characterisation stage in the laboratory “is far from what is going to be the production of the messenger, which obviously does not use this graphene oxide grid.”
“Not only does it not have graphene oxide, but not even by drag-out or cross-contamination could the vaccines have graphene oxide derived from this test. In other words, they are absolutely independent things.”
In addition to graphene oxide, gold particles or other compounds are also used in the cryo-electron microscopy, “but it is part of the technique and has nothing to do with the composition of the vaccine”, he told AFP on March 21, 2023.
Once injected to a person, Covid-19 mRNA vaccines — such as the Pfizer/BioNTech Cominarty vaccine and the Moderna Spikevax vaccine — deliver instructions to human cells on how to build a harmless piece of the spike protein found on the surface of the coronavirus, teaching the body to recognize and fight the real thing.
The AFP animation below explains how the mRNA vaccines work: