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In Pakistan, home remedies are more trusted than doctors

In Pakistan, home remedies are more trusted than doctors

In Pakistan, discourse around coronavirus, Covid-19 and vaccination drives have been marred by public distrust and disinformation from the start. Below are five false theories circulating about Covid-19 in Pakistan, which are posing an active risk to public health...

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No, Covid-19 vaccines do not contain toxic heavy metals

Katherine Hignett
Health Studio
United Kingdom

Conspiracy theorists have falsely claimed that Covid-19 vaccines contain an array of dangerous ingredients, from toxic chemicals to DNA modifiers. In reality, the approved vaccines have been rigorously tested for safety, with full lists of their components readily available online. But unproven claims that they contain dangerous substances continue to circulate.

One prominent claim doing the rounds on social media is that some or all of the major vaccines contain heavy metals like mercury: an idea propagated by anti-vaccine groups for decades to scare people off routine childhood vaccinations. In the time of coronavirus, this too has been absorbed into similarly false narratives about “microchips” and “magnets”.

So, where do these rumours come from, and what’s the truth?


The Wakefield scandal


False rumours about heavy metals being present in vaccines spread widely during an infamous vaccine controversy known as the Wakefield scandal.

In 1998, British medical journal The Lancet published research by a physician called Andrew Wakefield and 12 others, which seemed to suggest a link between routine measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) jabs and autism.

This supposed connection caused a global medical scare and saw rates of childhood vaccination plummet in the UK and North America, as well as in other parts of the world.

Six years later, an investigation revealed the research had been falsified. It was found to contain misreported data that had been altered to support the group’s hypothesis. The paper, which had been controversial since its publication, was finally retracted, and Wakefield himself was struck off the British medical register.

But the scandal had already re-galvanised international anti-vaccine movements that had existed in various forms for more than a century. One false narrative popularised during this time was a rumour that a mercury-preservative called thimerosal could be harming children’s brains and potentially causing autism.

However, the MMR jabs didn’t actually contain thimerosal, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Extensive scientific research has also now shown there is no link between this little-used ingredient and the development of conditions like autism.

But the rumour has persisted — and now it’s being used to discourage uptake of Covid-19 shots, which do not contain the ingredient, as well as to sell sham remedies that promise to “detoxify” the body of metals.


A Telegram message from prominent anti-vaccine figure and frequent disinformation-spreader Dr Sherri Tenpenny advises anyone who has received a vaccine to buy her “Zeolite” detox product.


What is thimerosal and is it safe?


Mercury might sound like a scary ingredient to be present in a jab, but expert vaccinologist Dr John Grabenstein told Health Studio there was no way the tiny amounts used occasionally in vaccines could cause harm.

He explained: “One of the atoms in the thimerosal molecule is mercury. But it’s in a form that the body cannot absorb, and it just passes out of the body. That’s called ethylmercury.”

Another form — methylmercury — is dangerous, he said. But it is not used in any vaccines.

The use of preservatives like thimerosal, which was safely deployed in shots for decades, has dropped significantly in recent years. Its purpose was always to stop bacteria from growing in larger multi-dose vaccine vials that could be used over several days.

These days, though, vaccines tend to be delivered in single-dose containers that do not need preservatives. Childhood vaccines, for example, haven’t contained thimerosal for more than a decade. However, the ingredient is still used in some flu shots.


What about Covid-19 vaccines?


Some social media users claim that Covid-19 vaccines contain thimerosal, but this is incorrect.

The Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) and Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccines do not contain thimerosal or other heavy-metal based ingredients.

China’s Sinopharm and Sinovac shots do contain aluminium, which is sometimes considered a heavy metal. The vaccines use a tiny amount of an aluminium salt called aluminium hydroxide to strengthen the body’s immune response.

But scientific evidence shows exposure to aluminium from vaccines is far below the lowest level thought to be potentially harmful. In fact, vaccines that use the metal contain about the same amount as would be found in about a litre of baby formula. Aluminium, which is naturally present in air, water and food, isn’t readily absorbed into the body through vaccination.

If you want to know more about the ingredients in Covid-19 vaccines, product information documents are freely available online (links below). Many national regulators insist this information is given to recipients before they receive a dose.

All authorised Covid-19 vaccines, whatever their ingredients, have gone through rigorous testing and continue to be monitored by health authorities in many different countries.

Dr Grabenstein said the regulators that approve vaccines in each country want to keep people healthy. “So, they go to enormous lengths to assure product quality — and all of those quality safeguards have been used with the Covid-19 vaccines,” he said. “There is an enormous effort being put out to protect the public.”

False claims that the vaccines contain dangerous ingredients are made to frighten people, he said, adding that readers should ask for evidence whenever they hear something off-putting about the jabs.

He said: “If you’re going to make the claim [that vaccines contain microchips], then show me the microchips. Show me someone that has a microchip in them. Show me somebody who has been magnetised. Show me the laboratory that found mercury.

“These claims are made to scare people. If they were true then there would be evidence that they are true. But there is no evidence, because they are not true.”


Official product information and ingredient lists for Covid-19 vaccines:



US (Food and Drug Administration): https://www.fda.gov/media/144414/download (Page 2, “What are the ingredients in the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine?” section)

EU (European Medicines Agency):  https://www.ema.europa.eu/en/documents/product-information/comirnaty-epar-product-information_en.pdf (Page 11, section 6.1)

UK (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA): https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/regulatory-approval-of-pfizer-biontech-vaccine-for-covid-19/summary-of-product-characteristics-for-covid-19-vaccine-pfizerbiontech (section 6.1)

World Health Organisation (WHO): https://extranet.who.int/pqweb/sites/default/files/documents/Comirnaty-Pfizer-BioNTech-COVID-19-vaccine-injectionPIt.pdf (Page 9, section 6.1)

Health Canada: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-health-products/covid19-industry/drugs-vaccines-treatments/vaccines/pfizer-biontech.html (“Ingredients” section)

Mexico Secretaría de Salud (Spanish language): http://vacunacovid.gob.mx/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/GTApp_Pfizer_29Junio2021.pdf (Page 8)



FDA: https://www.fda.gov/media/144638/download (Page 2, “What are the ingredients in the Moderna Covid-19 Vaccine” section)

EMA: https://www.ema.europa.eu/en/documents/product-information/spikevax-previously-covid-19-vaccine-moderna-epar-product-information_en.pdf (Page 9, section 6.1)

WHO: https://extranet.who.int/pqweb/sites/default/files/documents/COVID-19_Moderna_PEG-TAG_report.pdf (page 7, “Drug product” section)

MHRA: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/regulatory-approval-of-covid-19-vaccine-moderna/information-for-healthcare-professionals-on-covid-19-vaccine-moderna (Section 6.1)

Health Canada: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-health-products/covid19-industry/drugs-vaccines-treatments/vaccines/moderna.html#a11 (“Ingredients” section)



EU: https://www.ema.europa.eu/en/documents/product-information/vaxzevria-previously-covid-19-vaccine-astrazeneca-epar-product-information_en.pdf (Page 9, section 6.1)

WHO: https://extranet.who.int/pqweb/sites/default/files/documents/pl-azd1222-en.pdf (page 5, section 6: “What Covid-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca contains”)

MHRA: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/regulatory-approval-of-covid-19-vaccine-astrazeneca/information-for-healthcare-professionals-on-covid-19-vaccine-astrazeneca (Section 6.1)

Health Canada: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-health-products/covid19-industry/drugs-vaccines-treatments/vaccines/astrazeneca.html (“Ingredients” section)

Mexico Secretaría de Salud (Spanish language): http://vacunacovid.gob.mx/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/GTApp_SputnikV_24Junio2021.pdf (Page 8)


Janssen (Johnson & Johnson)

FDA: https://www.fda.gov/media/146305/download (Page 2, “What are the ingredients in the Janssen Covid-19 Vaccine” section)

EMA: https://www.ema.europa.eu/en/documents/product-information/covid-19-vaccine-janssen-epar-product-information_en.pdf (Page 10, section 6.1)

WHO: https://extranet.who.int/pqweb/sites/default/files/documents/ProductLeaflet_Janssen_07May2021.pdf (Page 6, section 6: “What the Covid-19 Vaccine Janssen contains”)

MHRA: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/regulatory-approval-of-covid-19-vaccine-janssen/summary-of-product-characteristics-for-covid-19-vaccine-janssen (Section 6.1)

Health Canada: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-health-products/covid19-industry/drugs-vaccines-treatments/vaccines/janssen.html (“Ingredients” section)

Mexico Secretaría de Salud (Spanish language): http://vacunacovid.gob.mx/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/GTApp_Janssen_24Junio2021.pdf (Page 9)



WHO: https://extranet.who.int/pqweb/sites/default/files/documents/PI_Covid-19_Vaccine_BIBP_updated_in_June%202021_Finalized_9Jun21.pdf (Page 1, “Composition” section)



WHO: https://extranet.who.int/pqweb/sites/default/files/documents/COR-WHO-Adu-40_vials-insert.pdf, https://extranet.who.int/pqweb/sites/default/files/documents/COR-WHO-Adu-10_syringes-insert.pdf (Page 1, “Composition and description” section)

Mexico Secretaría de Salud (Spanish language):  http://vacunacovid.gob.mx/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/GTApp_Sinovac_24Junio2021.pdf (Page 8)



Mexico Secretaría de Salud (Spanish language):  http://vacunacovid.gob.mx/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/GTApp_CanSino_24Junio2021.pdf (Page 8)



Mexico Secretaría de Salud (Spanish language):  http://vacunacovid.gob.mx/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/GTApp_SputnikV_24Junio2021.pdf (Page 9)

Katherine Hignett -
Health Studio
United Kingdom

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