The claim: Johns Hopkins University confirmed PCR tests can be used to vaccinate against COVID-19
A disinformation website is taking a 2020 press release out of context to falsely claim Americans may get vaccinated against COVID-19 without their knowledge.
“Johns Hopkins University Confirms: You Can Be ‘Vaccinated’ with a PCR Test, Even Without Knowing,” reads the title of the Feb. 16 article posted by the Centre for Research on Globalization, a Montreal-based group.
Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests are among the most accurate for diagnosing coronavirus cases. However, they have previously been the subject of misinformation online, where some have falsely claimed they’re inaccurate and confuse viruses.
Despite the foreign domain, social media users in the U.S. have shared the link on Facebook and Twitter. In a 2020 report, the State Department characterized the Centre for Research on Globalization as a Russia-affiliated “source of anti-U.S. and anti-Western disinformation and propaganda.”
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The authorless article cites as evidence a November 2020 Johns Hopkins news release regarding a medical device for releasing drugs into the body through the gastrointestinal system. It doesn’t support the claim that PCR tests can be used to vaccinate people against COVID-19, which health experts have debunked.
USA TODAY reached out to the website that posted the article for comment.
Press release unrelated to COVID-19
USA TODAY found no evidence that Johns Hopkins confirmed PCR tests can secretly be used to administer COVID-19 vaccines. The claim has been circulating online since at least April 2021, and independent fact-checking organizations have debunked similar articles.
Caslon Hatch, a Johns Hopkins Medicine spokesperson, told USA TODAY in an email that the Centre for Research on Globalization’s article “inaccurately used” the university’s press release “for disinformation purposes.”
The medical devices mentioned in the release are called theragrippers. They have not been tested or used for vaccine delivery since their development in late 2020, Hatch said.
Theragrippers are star-shaped devices the size of a dust speck. The center claimed the metal microdevices “are actually administered with a cotton swab” similar to a PCR test.
But that’s wrong, according to Hatch.
Theragrippers would be deployed in someone’s intestines with an endoscope, she said. Once there, theragrippers would “latch” onto the tissue and slowly release medicine.
Theragrippers have not been approved for use in humans. Their only application has been administering pain-relieving drugs to animals in a laboratory setting.
Dr. Richard Martinello, an associate professor of medicine and infectious diseases at Yale University, previously told USA TODAY there’s no substance to the theory that PCR tests are vaccines in disguise.
The swabs used in those tests are dry, sterile and sealed when they are sent from the manufacturers, Martinello said. To avoid tampering, the packaging is opened just before use.
While vaccines administered through the nose do exist, there isn’t an approved or authorized intranasal vaccine for COVID-19.
Our rating: False
We rate the claim that Johns Hopkins University confirmed PCR tests can be used to vaccinate against COVID-19 FALSE, based on our research. There’s no evidence Johns Hopkins confirmed such a claim, and health experts have previously debunked the theory that PCR tests can be used to vaccinate against COVID-19.
Our fact-check sources:
- State Department, August 2020, GEC Special Report: Pillars of Russia’s Disinformation and Propaganda Ecosystem
- Johns Hopkins University, Nov. 25, 2020, Johns Hopkins researchers take inspiration from parasitic work for medicine delivery
- Reuters, June 16, 2021, Fact Check-Johns Hopkins University did not say that you can be vaccinated with a PCR test
- Caslon Hatch, Feb. 18, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Johns Hopkins Medicine, Feb. 15, 2021, Johns Hopkins Develops Tiny Machines That Deliver Medicine to the Intestines
- Yale University, accessed Feb. 18, Richard A. Martinello, MD
- USA TODAY, Oct. 15, 2021, Fact check: COVID-19 PCR test created to detect infection, not vaccinate
- Yale Medicine, Jan. 20, Which COVID-19 Test Should You Get?
- USA TODAY, Feb. 8, Fact check: List of viruses in COVID-19 test instructions is evidence of accuracy
- USA TODAY, Dec. 30, 2021, Fact check: CDC is withdrawing its PCR COVID-19 test, but not because it confuses viruses
- Food and Drug Administration, accessed Feb. 22, COVID-19 Vaccines
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