Covid-19 vaccine: Warning, these videos don’t show 'toxic' 'graphene'

Videos claiming to show graphene or graphene oxide – materials that some people believe are in Covid-19 vaccines, making them toxic – have been circulating on social media over the past few days. The videos all show a dark material moving in strange ways, sometimes in response to a magnet. But it turns out that these videos don’t show graphene at all.

These videos claim to show graphene or graphene oxide, using previous images that have nothing at all to do with the material.
These videos claim to show graphene or graphene oxide, using previous images that have nothing at all to do with the material. © Observers

There has been growing enthusiasm around potential uses for graphene – a material that is incredibly light, conductive and supple while also being stronger than steel – since it was developed in 2004. People in fields ranging from biomedicine to electronics have been exploring its potential uses. 

For the past few months, the material has also been popping up in conspiracy theories around the Covid-19 vaccine. Some have said that graphene is the reason behind the supposed "magnetism" of the Pfizer vaccine, which the FRANCE 24 Observers already debunked last May. 

In late May, when this rumour was circulating in the Spanish-speaking world, our colleagues at fact-checking services AFP Factuel and in Spain wrote articles proving that there was no graphene in the vaccine. They published more articles on the same topic in early July after a Spanish study made false claims that the Pfizer vaccine was made up of 99.9% graphene.

The material, which is still relatively unknown among the general public, has become a fixation for some. Videos purporting to show “graphene in action” have been multiplying on Telegram channels populated by conspiracy theorists, as well as on TwitterFacebook and TikTok. These videos often show a dark material of varying consistencies that reacts to other objects as if it were magnetic. 

Most of these videos claim to show “graphene oxide”, which doesn’t have the same properties as graphene at all: it isn’t conductive or waterproof, for example. Lots of people confuse them, however, and speak about the two materials as if they were the same thing. 

Unrelated science experiment videos used to show 'graphene in action'

This first video shows small balls in a Petri dish moving in a strange way and connecting in a chain. It was widely circulated on social media early last week. The caption claims that it shows “graphene oxide" in the vaccine. 

Our team carried out a reverse image search and found the original version of the video on the YouTube channel of the "Stanford Complexity Group", linked to the American university of the same name.

The video, called "Self Assembling Wires", shows steel ball bearings floating in castor oil in a Petri dish with a metal rim. An electrical current moves the balls when voltage is applied to them, and they connect to one another. There is absolutely no graphene or graphene oxide in the dish. 

The is a chart created by the person who made the original video to show how the experiment works.
The is a chart created by the person who made the original video to show how the experiment works. © Stanford Complexity Group (YouTube screenshot)

The same thing is going on in this other video, which shows a dark mass that starts moving in strange ways as a magnet is held close to it, until it actually engulfs the magnet. The caption claims that this video shows what graphene oxide looks like.

It turns out that this video is from a tutorial published by Buzzfeed in 2016 to make a kind of slime for kids to play with. There are thousands of recipes online for slime. This one calls for iron oxide (not graphene), which explains its magnetic qualities.

Finally, there is this video, which purports to show graphene reacting when it's near a phone. Once again, it isn’t graphene shown here, it's magnetic ore, according to the Russian channel that posted the original video in 2015. Lots of sceptical viewers left comments in Russian suggesting that someone was likely using a hidden magnet to make the substance move.

It's not magnetic and not used in vaccines, but graphene may be a new frontier in biomedical research 

The FRANCE 24 Observers team contacted several experts to find out more about this material. 

Graphene is technically a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb lattice. In nature, these layers stack up one on top of another to form graphite, which is used to make pencil lead. Since graphene was first isolated into a single layer in 2004, there have been a number of studies launched trying to find potential uses for this material, including within the biomedical realm. 

The video was made by "Graphene Flagship" to explain what graphene is.

Emmanuel Flahaut is a director of research at the French research institute CNRS and is a specialist in graphene. He says that there is no way that the substances in these videos are graphene, which doesn't look like that and isn't magnetic. 

Graphene oxide does seem to have some level of magnetic properties but it can’t magnetise anything else. Graphene oxide in powdered form isn’t attracted by a magnet. And if there is a bit of graphene oxide in a product, that wouldn’t be enough to introduce any magnetic property on any significant level. 

Flahaut described several potential uses for graphene in the biomedical field. 

Its properties could be used for hyperthermia, that's to say increasing the temperature of a certain area of the body using radiation by a laser, for example, which could be used to treat cancers. It could also be used to transport molecules that don’t dissolve well in water (or biological fluids) to help bring them to targeted cells.

In 2020, a study by researchers at CNRS and the University of Strasbourg looked into potential ways graphene could be used in the fight against Covid-19. 

Could graphene be toxic for humans? 

In May 2021, the French Ministry of Health recalled 17 million FFP2 masks, meant for healthcare workers, because they were said to contain graphene, calling it a “potentially dangerous element”.

While this incident might seem to give weight to those sceptical of the material, there actually aren’t conclusive reports about the toxicity of graphene and graphene oxide, according to several researchers including Maurizio Prato, who is head of health and the environment at a project called Graphene Flagship, financed by the European Union, which coordinates research in this domain.  

There are several groups of scientists studying the effects of graphene and graphene oxide on human health and the environment. Up until now, we haven’t found any really bad effects but further investigations are needed. 

Emmanuel Flahaut says that it can be difficult to compare different studies and that they haven’t always come to the same conclusions, however, there are some things that are pretty certain:  

Graphene isn’t dangerous, unless you inhale it in powdered form. That isn’t really an issue for people who use the material, but it could affect people who work in places where graphene is incorporated into different commercial products. 

Graphene oxide is much more worrying, because our work with a number of different laboratories show that it is often genotoxic, which means it can damage the genetic information within a cell causing mutations, which may lead to cancer.  However, we have shown that it is possible to use a chemical treatment to get rid of that risk.