This blog often covers successful healthcare awareness and marketing campaigns. But let’s look at one that goes against conventional beliefs about health and wellness but has still gained massive popularity.
You’ve probably heard about the magnet challenge or magnet test, in which people on social media (or, as was the case last week, on television) claim that the COVID-19 vaccine makes them magnetic. This is “proven” by sticking a magnet or metal object to their injection site or showing that metal objects stick to other parts of their body.
Whatever your feelings about vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccines, we can all probably agree that this particular point seems rooted in sensationalism and a lack of common sense - not to mention experience.
For instance, BBC reporter Jack Goodman reached out to several creators of magnet challenge videos and found that some were genuinely confused as to why objects were sticking to their skin. But most of us have probably had this happen before, right? Who hasn’t tried sticking a metal spoon to the end of their nose or a coin to their arm when they were little? And if you’re an especially sweaty person, you probably have had an object stick to your skin at some point totally by accident and well before you ever had a COVID-19 jab.
Still, many COVID-19 vaccine opponents and conspiracy theorists aren’t convinced. Understanding why may help healthcare providers better communicate with patients who have a similar mindset. So let’s take a look at what’s behind the magnet challenge.
Why are people claiming that COVID-19 vaccinations make you magnetic?
The connection between the COVID-19 vaccine and magnetism seems to come from one of two ideas:
1. Some vaccines contain doses of magnetic metals.
Some people have pointed out that certain COVID-19 vaccines may contain aluminum. But aluminum isn’t magnetic.
2. Many conspiracy theorists believe the COVID-19 vaccine contains a microchip or some other device or substance that will be used to track or control the population. The microchip or device is either magnetic or creates a magnetic field. Some conspiracies claim that Bill Gates is behind all of this.
This is harder to debunk than the first claim because it’s extremely difficult to convince conspiracy theorists that there isn’t some kind of secret agenda at play.
It also provides an insight into many people’s mindsets. After more than a year of uncertain information brought on by a previously unknown virus as well as press sensationalism, it’s hard for many people to trust those who should seem trustworthy, like scientists, journalists, and doctors.
Where did the magnet challenge start?
As with many internet trends, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where and precisely when the magnet challenge started. Most sources claim it began sometime this spring on TikTok and quickly spread to other social media and video-sharing platforms.
But if you try to find these videos, it’s not as easy as it would seem. This is because many sites have removed them, considering them sources of COVID-19 misinformation. Still, Goodman notes that you may come across them on encrypted messaging services like Telegram and WhatsApp. His video’s footnotes also include a link to the YouTube #magnetchallenge page, where viewers can see a few. This Buzzfeed article features another magnet challenge video.
Even if you don’t see it in its original TikTok form, the magnet challenge can be spotted in other media. Take a television broadcast of a session of the Ohio House Health Committee that aired earlier this month. Joanna Overholt , a nurse invited to speak on behalf of vaccine opponent Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, claimed that since she received the COVID-19 vaccine, keys and other metal objects stick to her. She tried to prove this by taking a key and sticking it to her chest, then attempted to make it stick to her neck. While that didn’t quite work, Overholt remained firmly convinced. “Yeah, so if somebody could explain this, that would be great,” she stated dryly, staring at the camera.
Regardless of what you believe about the COVID-19 vaccine, the dubious nature of the magnet challenge is a reminder of how we should consider all of the countless clickbaity news items and videos that have come out of the pandemic. In the words of TikTok user @emilaaay442, a magnet challenge participant who now says her video was just a joke, “Stop believing things that you see on TikTok…or on Facebook or YouTube.” Emily then licks the magnet from her previous video and sticks it to her forehead.