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Posts distort research details to suggest secret vaccine campaign

February 16, 2022 GMT

CLAIM: Johns Hopkins University research shows that someone can “be vaccinated with a PCR swab test without knowing.”

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Researchers developed tiny devices for potentially delivering drugs, but the technology was not tested or used with vaccines — or delivered through PCR swab tests. The technology has not been approved for use in humans.

THE FACTS: Social media posts are baselessly linking technology developed by Johns Hopkins researchers to a method of stealthily administering vaccines to unknowing recipients.

“Johns Hopkins U Confirms You Can Be Vaccinated with a PCR Swab Test Without Knowing,” reads one blog post’s headline shared on Facebook and Instagram.

But the university confirmed no such thing.

The blog post points to a November 2020 article by the university announcing that researchers had “designed tiny, star-shaped microdevices that can latch onto intestinal mucosa and release drugs into the body.”

The researchers published a study a month prior in the journal Science Advances on using such technology to deliver medicine in animals’ gastrointestinal tract.

But the so-called “theragrippers” have not been approved for use in humans, or tested for vaccine administration.

“This nanotechnology has shown promise in a laboratory setting,” Johns Hopkins Medicine said in a statement provided to The Associated Press. “However, it is still in its infancy and has not been approved for use in humans.”

The statement said the university article “has been inaccurately used for disinformation purposes over the past few months,” noting that the devices have “been neither tested nor used for vaccine delivery.”

“The article described small devices known as ‘theragrippers’ that are deployed to the intestines via an endoscope,” the statement continued. “When these dust-sized devices reach a certain temperature, they latch onto tissue and release the medicine that has been loaded onto them.”

While the university’s article reporting on the research included a photo of the devices on a cotton swab, it did not say they are delivered that way. Instead, the cotton swab was used to convey the size of the devices, saying that “a theragripper is about the size of a speck of dust.”

The COVID-19 vaccines that are currently authorized for use in the U.S. are administered via shots into one’s muscle.


This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.