Conspiracy theorists are pushing toxic bleach and other harmful treatments they claim can 'de-vaccinate' people

·5 min read
Anti-vaccine protest
A protest in London against plans to encourage vaccination on November 20, 2021.Wiktor Szymanowicz/Barcroft Media via Getty Images
  • In Facebook groups and Telegram channels, "de-vaccination" misinformation is spreading.

  • De-vaccination is medically impossible. But some advocates are encouraging people to try.

  • Insider found blood-letting and dangerous chemicals recommended as methods.

On social media channels devoted to anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, a new craze is spreading.

In a video hosted on Bitchute, a platform known for its extremist content, a man applies electrodes, a strong magnet and "55 percent Montana whiskey" in the hope of removing a COVID-19 vaccine from a US military veteran.

In another, a gory variant of the "cupping" technique to draw blood from an injection site, a man makes extra incisions with a razor to extract a significant amount. (Insider is not linking to the footage due to its graphic nature.)

Neither method had any hope of working. It is impossible to undo vaccination, a process which works by teaching the body to fight infection itself, and which doesn't rely on substances that can be isolated or removed.

But, with millions of people now vaccinated against COVID-19, some anti-vaccination advocates are pivoting to a new narrative aimed at those who took vaccines and regret it.

They claim it is indeed possible to "de-vaccinate" people, recommending a host of methods which range from quaint to potentially dangerous.

Graphene oxide conspiracy theory
A still image from a video in which Andreas Kalcker and an associate falsely claim that the bleach chlorine dioxide can be used "de-vaccinate" people.Bitchute

The "de-vaccination" movement is spreading in Telegram groups with thousands of members, as well as other fringe platforms used by extremists, which Insider monitored while researching the trend.

Users repost videos, like the ones referred to above, beaming them to large audiences not reflected in view counts on the sites where they are hosted.

Advocates have also established a presence on mainstream platforms that purport to restrict such activity, such as Facebook and TikTok, experts told Insider.

In response to Insider flagging their presence, Facebook removed a de-vaccination group and several pages from its site for violating its COVID misinformation policies.

Joe Ondrak, a disinformation expert and the lead researcher at Logically AI, told Insider that beliefs in "de-vaccination" have roots in older conspiracy theories.

Ondrak linked it to claims — also untrue — that vaccines are magnetic. (The theory fueled a subgenre of videos in which people claimed metal objects started sticking to them after they got vaccinated.)

"As that claim went viral, people were looking for scientific reasons to back that up. And people sort of started latching on to this idea of graphene oxide as a magnetic material that was in the vaccines," he said.

Graphene oxide is a substance used in high-tech manufacturing, with some potential medical applications.

Some claim that the substance is being implanted via the vaccines to transform humans into machine-like entities who can be easily controlled.

Public health bodies say there is no graphene oxide in any of the COVID-19 vaccines. (Fact-checking site Full Fact linked the narrative to a disputed study by a scientist at the University of Almería in Spain. The university has since distanced itself from his work.)

Some advocates claim to to be able to purge vaccine-implanted graphene oxide. The benign suggestions to do this include protein supplements and pine-extract capsules, albeit sold at high prices.

Others are potentially dangerous.

People promoting the toxic bleach chlorine dioxide as a miracle cure have reached a vast new audience during the pandemic, claiming it can cure or prevent the disease (it cannot). Some of those people now also advocate it as part of a "de-vaccination" treatment. De-vaccination conspiracy theories have been spreading in the movement for months, Fiona O'Leary, an activist who tracks chlorine dioxide misinformation told Insider.

Chlorine dioxide is a kind of bleach used to treat paper products, and can be fatal if consumed in large doses. Its use as a "miracle cure" has been linked to several deaths during the pandemic.

Andreas Kalcker is a leading chlorine dioxide advocate, who is under investigation in Argentina after a child died from drinking the bleach to treat a cough.

Kalcker in videos on Bitchute pushes graphene oxide conspiracy theories and claims that chlorine dioxide can purge it. His new book further expanded on his groundless belief in the power of the bleach to "de-vaccinate."

The book was on sale on Amazon, but was removed after Insider flagged it to the company.

In a statement to Insider, he defended his view that COVID vaccines contain graphene oxide, citing the disputed Spanish study.

The de-vaccination movement has spread to establish a growing presence on mainstream platforms.

A recent NBC News investigation found anti-vaccine influencers on TikTok pushing unproven de-vaccination cures.

They included taking baths in water infused with the chemical irritant borax, or trying to use a syringe to "un-inject" the vaccine — neither of which have any prospect of undoing the vaccination process.

Advocates are also using private and public groups on Facebook to discuss "de-vaccination", said Ondrak. Insider viewed several such large groups during its research, which have tens of thousands of members.

Ondrak noted that due to the opacity of Telegram and Facebook's private groups, it is hard to get a true sense of how far misinformation is spreading.

Meta, Facebook's parent company, told Insider that its goal was to promote accurate information about COVID and vaccines, and explained why it had removed one de-vaccination group flagged by Insider.

"We removed this group for violating our policies and will continue to remove any group, page, or post that repeatedly violates those policies," said a Meta spokesman.

The de-vaccination movement though is unlikely gain much wider traction, said Ondrak. But the emergence of the movement has a deeper significance, he said.

He said it was one of the core narratives now linking disparate groups on the political fringe — such as alternative health advocates and far-right extremists — into a supercharged anti-vaccine movement.

"It's here in this idea of being de vaccinated, where they are really overlapping quite tightly," said Ondrak.

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