Increasing numbers of people are searching for information on how to “detox” themselves from the COVID-19 vaccine after receiving it, over fears it could have detrimental effects. But is this ever safe or even possible?

Share on Pinterest
Can you really ‘detox the vaccine,’ and is it safe to try? Image credit: Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

Nearly 3 out of 4 people in the United States have received a vaccination against COVID-19. Over 9 out of 10 of those who said they intended to get vaccinated in early 2021 have taken at least one dose.

Concerns raised in the early summer about the low number of people receiving a vaccination against COVID-19 were relieved in August 2021 when the White House claimed a 70% increase in the daily average of first dose vaccinations compared to the previous month. Much of this uptake took place in areas that had previously had the lowest vaccination rates.

While the White House pointed to the increase in vaccine mandates for the boost in uptake, the September results from KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor, a study about attitudes toward COVID-19 vaccines, considered the fear over the Delta variant to be behind the demand for the vaccine.

Whatever the motivation, the White House has continued to press ahead with increased mandates for vaccination in many settings.

Although the policies from the Biden Administration have experienced some setbacks, many businesses across the U.S. have already implemented them. About 1 in 4 workers say their employer required them to have a COVID-19 vaccination in October 2021, which, according to the KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor, is an increase of 16% since June.

Against this political backdrop, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized vaccination for children aged 5-11 in October and booster shots for all adults in November.

This means that many people who may previously have been vaccine-hesitant have faced additional pressures to receive the vaccine.

The KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor revealed that while 7 in 10 unvaccinated workers said they would leave their job if their employer asked them to get vaccinated, just 1 in 20 unvaccinated workers say they have actually done so,

“More than a third (37%) of unvaccinated workers (5% of adults overall) say they would leave their job if their employer required them to get a vaccine or get tested weekly, a share that rises to 7 in 10 unvaccinated workers (9% of all adults) if weekly testing is not an option,” their report also found.

Although vaccination rates might be slowing down, vaccination continues. This suggests that some people who are getting vaccines may not have planned on doing so previously.

One peculiar phenomenon that has developed out of this recent landscape is that some people have started looking for information on how to “detox” from the vaccine after they have received it, particularly if they had not wanted to have it in the first place.

A TikTok video featuring claims that people who had had the COVID-19 vaccine should take complex “detox” baths, containing, among other things, borax, hit the headlines in November. However, that video was not the only example of emerging claims that people should detox from the vaccine to avoid unwanted side effects.

Suggestions for “detoxes” after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine ranged from borax baths to detox diets. Suggested detox diets included high fat diets to “bind the toxins” in the vaccines, alongside supplements, including zinc and vitamins C and D.

According to some media reports, some even suggested cupping the site of the injection to remove the vaccine.

More extreme claims suggest that people who have had the vaccine need to take a prophylactic dose of ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine to counteract what they believe to be a negative impact of the vaccine on their immune system. The FDA does not authorize the use of ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine to combat COVID-19 but rather advises against using ivermectin for this purpose.

While the rise of this misinformation may seem baffling to some, Prof. Monica Gandhi, professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco and an HIV doctor, feels that social media is partly to blame.

Speaking to Medical News Today, she pointed to the fact that there was always misinformation about HIV from high profile academics, and at one point, the President of South Africa, “but it didn’t end up having this reach that you can have when you have social media platforms, with people with MD and Ph.D. after their names who are allowed to put out there that mRNA and proteins stay around in your body, that it is toxic and that it kills other cells.”

She added that while there is a lot of anger in the U.S. towards people who are not vaccinated, she just feels sadness about the situation:

“If you’re very worried about these vaccines, if you’ve been convinced by someone who has an MD after their name that they’re dangerous, then you’ll do everything in your power, especially if there’s a mandate, to detox or to get that protein or the mRNA out of your body. I mean, you’re really, really worried. That is what misinformation does; it truly worries you.”

People keen to promote the message that vaccines can be harmful, whether it is around false claims that the MMR can cause autism or that heavy metals used as preservatives in them are toxic to children, have targeted parents and caregivers.

Now, over half of the parents in the U.S. said they worry that their child may be required to get vaccinated for COVID-19 even if they do not want them to, the Vaccine Monitor reported in October.

In California, where vaccine mandates are expected to come into full force in July 2022, reports indicate that parents are pressurizing doctors to invoke inappropriate medical exemptions, homeschooling, and moving away from the state.

Dr. David Shafran, head of pediatrics at K Health in Cleveland, OH, has not had any parents come to see him asking how to “detox” their children after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. He told MNT in an email:

“While I advocate for the COVID vaccine, I can understand and have seen the uneasiness that mandates can elicit when folks feel pushed into an intervention before they’ve wrapped their minds fully around it, especially when it comes to their children.”

“Perhaps vaccinating before full readiness results in the compulsion to somehow mitigate the ‘unwanted’ intervention. But I would like to reassure parents that the immune response from the vaccine is a protective one that cannot be reversed or undone, so please avoid unproven and potentially harmful interventions.”

Much of the concern seems to center on the suggestion that mRNA vaccines are potentially harmful, and the fact that they are a new drug means that we do not fully understand their impact yet. But there is little evidence to suggest that they can be harmful, scientists say.

It was worth noting that the mRNA vaccines that have been developed actually use a modified form of mRNA to reduce the risk of unwanted side effects, says professor of Immunology at the University of Bern in Switzerland, Prof. Martin Bachmann.

In an interview, he explained to MNT that: “These are not normal RNA molecules; they’re slightly modified. And the more you modify them, I guess the less toxic they will be, but then they may also be less effective at actually immunizing, so I’m sure [pharmaceutical companies] found some compromise there between safety and the efficacy.”

“If the body doesn’t recognize it, then it won’t be toxic,” he pointed out. “So if you’ve modified your RNA and the body does not recognize the mRNA, you’re more likely to have essentially no side effects except the very rare ones. But if you completely modify the RNA, you probably won’t have an effective vaccine.”

Dr. Shafran concurred, saying that the COVID-19 vaccine “is irrevocable and that’s not a bad thing.”

He also explained:

“The mRNA vaccines induce an immune response in the form of antibodies targeting specifically the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that protects strongly against infection. Once these antibodies have formed, there’s no going back; the immune system is primed to fight COVID always and forever. We know these antibodies circulate for at least 6–12 months, with longer immunity likely conferred as well, even after ‘visible’ antibody counts decline.”

Claims that heavy metals in vaccines are “toxic” is a claim that people who oppose vaccine use have been making since long before the development of the COVID-19 vaccines.

This is likely due to the fact that heavy metals have been ingredients in vaccines for decades, often as an adjuvant or present in preservatives. While there are historical concerns raised by the FDA over the use of thimerosal, a molecule containing mercury, in vaccines for children, research into this has shown that there are no health risks. People have been routinely receiving vaccines containing these ingredients for decades.

According to a fact check by Reuters, thimerosal is not an ingredient in COVID-19 vaccines.

“Heavy metals, of course, are toxic, but that is dependent on the dose. But, this is not a dose [in vaccines] that could be dangerous. Everything is dose-dependent. Water is bad for you if you drown in a lake!” said Prof. Bachmann.

The amount that is in the vaccine is not dangerous, but COVID-19 is, he emphasized.

As Professor Gandhi points out, you only need to look at the scale of vaccines that have been delivered to realize they are safe.

“7.4 billion doses have been administered now worldwide, of different vaccines with COVID, and a lot of those are mRNA vaccines. So you know, if there were a lot of adverse events, we would have seen a lot of damage. But we don’t see that,” she pointed out.

For live updates on the latest developments regarding the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, click here.