Covid vaccine holdouts are caving to mandates — then scrambling to undo their shots
As mandates spread, anti-vaccine groups have been trafficking in pseudoscience treatments meant to remove or counteract the vaccines. Experts say it’s like trying to “unring a bell.”
In a TikTok video that has garnered hundreds of thousands of views, Dr. Carrie Madej outlined the ingredients for a bath she said will “detox the vaxx” for people who have given into Covid-19 vaccine mandates.
The ingredients in the bath are mostly not harmful, although the supposed benefits attached to them are entirely fictional. Baking soda and epsom salts, she falsely claims, will provide a “radiation detox” to remove radiation Madej falsely believes is activated by the vaccine. Bentonite clay will add a “major pull of poison,” she says, based on a mistaken idea in anti-vaccine communities that toxins can be removed from the body with certain therapies.
Then, recommends adding in one cup of borax, a cleaning agent that’s been banned as a food additive by the Food and Drug Administration, to “take nanotechnologies out of you.”
In reality, in addition to being potentially harmful as a skin and eye irritant, a borax “detox bath” will not remove the effects of the Covid vaccine from your body.
The video is one of several methods anti-vaccine influencers and communities on social media have in recent weeks suggested to their many followers who have capitulated and received the Covid shot. Anti-vaccine message boards are now littered with users caving to societal pressure or work mandates and receiving a coronavirus vaccination.
“Once you’re injected, the lifesaving vaccination process has already begun. You can’t unring a bell. It’s just not physically possible,” said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist and adjunct professor at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada.
Detox remedies and regimens have been staples of the anti-vaccine movement for years. Long before Covid, anti-vaccine influencers and alternative health entrepreneurs promoted unproven and sometimes dangerous treatments they claimed would rid children of the alleged toxins that lingered after routine childhood immunizations.
Children, many with autism, have been subjected to these disproven cures by way of parents convinced that they are alleviating suffering caused by heavy metal poisoning from vaccines. The often-costly remedies have included restrictive diets, supplements, chelation and hyperbaric chambers, as well as more dangerous home remedies.
With Covid came a new group of believers.
Now, some anti-vaccine groups are recommending that people who have been vaccinated should immediately self-administer cupping therapy (an ancient form of alternative medicine that involves creating suction on the skin) to speed up the “removal of the vax content” including first making small incisions on the injection site with a razor. Other memes give instructions on how to “un-inject” shots using syringes.
Both methods are potentially dangerous and would not remove the vaccine once it is administered, Rasmussen said.
“The transaction process for the mRNA vaccine is fairly quick. Basically, by the time you get out to your car, sorry, the magic has already started,” she said.
The newfound virality of “vaccine detoxes” is also a strategy by anti-vaccine influencers and groups to steel themselves for a reality in which 70 percent of Americans have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus — even though their dire warnings of mass death and infertility never came to fruition.
“This illustrates how these anti-vaccine communities are shifting and pushing these claims toward vaccinated people,” said Ciaran O’Connor, a disinformation researcher for the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, an anti-extremism nonprofit group based in London.
O’Connor recently released a report, titled “Jabbers’ Remorse,” about the virality of vaccine detoxes, specifically on TikTok, where Madej’s “detox” bath has made the leap to nonfringe parts of the social media platform.
Madej’s video was removed by TikTok last month, but the video’s duets — TikTok’s resharing feature, in which other users add reactions or context with the original video — have received hundreds of thousands of views. One duet lists a recipe of Madej’s bath next to her speech. Others show a TikTok user drawing a bath, or pouring out the ingredients into a container.
Representatives at TikTok did not respond to requests for comment.
“TikTok is being used as designed here, but the way it’s been designed is allowing these misinformed claims to proliferate on the platform,” O’Connor said.
Madej did not respond to repeated requests for comment. She is an osteopathic internal medicine doctor who has propagated a variety of debunked theories about the Covid vaccines and posted to Twitter about a variety of other conspiracy theories, including QAnon. She describes herself as “practicing the truth in Jesus through medicine.”
It is unclear what Madej means by “nanotechnologies,” but on a podcast called “Reawaken America” she falsely claimed there is a “liquified computing system” inside coronavirus vaccines. She has also claimed the vaccines are a “gateway to transhumanism.” Her theories have been broadly fact-checked as false, including earning a “Pants on Fire” rating from Politifact.
While Rasmussen is worried about users experimenting with chemical baths, she said she believes it’s a sign that vaccine mandates are largely working, and anti-vaccine influencers are adapting to a new reality.
“I think it is actually a good sign that these ‘how to undo your vaccine’ videos are taking off,” she said. “It suggests that a lot of those people who previously were saying ‘vaccines are terrible and I will never do it’ are, actually, doing it.”
Without the borax, Rasmussen said the bath is not a harmful idea after receiving the vaccine, but it won’t do anything for the nonexistent “radiation” or “nanotechnologies.”
“Take the bath and kick back and relax with a glass of wine, knowing that I’m safe from a potentially lethal viral infection,” she said.
Still, not all anti-vaccine communities are giving in, even with the false promise of a detox. In anti-vaccine Facebook groups like “Educate Before You Vaccinate,” comments still largely and incorrectly tell users that the vaccine is an irreversible path to government tracking, infertility or death.
Some provided hope with false cures. One user, who told the group her boyfriend “HAD to get a covid shot” and wondered how to “detox his body” was told to follow Madej’s borax bath instructions. Another user told her to look into drinking “Miracle Mineral Solution,” which is bleach and can be fatal if ingested.