On Tuesday, dozens of people packed into a Cleveland, Ohio, health committee meeting to review a bill in the legislature that would weaken the state’s vaccination laws. Then a physician and “expert witness” stepped forward with an awesome claim: The shots magnetize people, causing metal objects from pennies to forks to stick to their bodies.
“I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures all over the internet of people who have had these shots and now they’re magnetized,” said Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, an osteopathic physician. “They can put a key on their forehead. It sticks. They can put spoons and forks all over them and they can stick.”
A woman calling herself a registered nurse defended Tenpenny’s testimony by trying to use her own body as proof and sticking a key onto her chest. “Explain to me why the key sticks to me. It sticks to my neck too,” she said as she kept trying to stick the key to her neck while it repeatedly fell down. “Yeah, if somebody could explain this, that would be great.”
It’s not just Cleveland: Videos and pictures of people sticking magnets to their arms after claiming to have been innoculated have gone viral on social media. TikTok users are even participating in a “magnet test challenge,” which videos have garnered thousands of views.
“It is irresponsible and negligent,” University of Madison infectious-diseases professor Ajay Sethi told Intelligencer. Yet that hasn’t stopped the conspiracy theory from picking up attention, so much so that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a bulletin last week: “No. Receiving a COVID-19 vaccine will not make you magnetic, including at the site of vaccination which is usually your arm,” because the vaccine is free of “metals such as iron, nickel, cobalt, lithium, and rare earth alloys, as well as any manufactured products such as microelectronics, electrodes, carbon nanotubes, and nanowire semiconductors” that can create an electromagnetic field.
Dr. Thomas Russo, chief of infectious diseases at the University of Buffalo, told Intelligencer the conspiracy theory likely originated with another one: that Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates is behind a global scheme to secretly implant and track billions of people via vaccines.
“All false information about vaccines that’s really specifically designed to discourage people from getting vaccinated is detrimental,” Russo said. “This is particularly important because we’re moving to a phase now where people are taking on more risk. Unfortunately, I think there’s a segment of our population that is ill-informed, by no fault of their own, but by the individuals that are disseminating this false information.”