byHealth Desk|Published onAugust 4, 2021–Updated onAugust 4, 2021|Explainer
What our experts say
The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 mRNA vaccines do not contain any graphene oxide. The ingredient list for both vaccines have been published and tested by outside parties. They were not found to contain any graphene oxide in their formulas, including their lipid nanoparticles.
Lipid nanoparticles, basically tiny balls of fat, are used in mRNA vaccines to protect delicate RNA molecules so the vaccine can enter the human body without being destroyed. Lipid nanoparticles have been recognized as potential drug delivery systems (ways to get medications into human cells, especially injectable drugs) since the 1960s. Lipids are fatty, oily, or waxy and include fats and oils (triglycerides), waxes, and steroids, among other things.
Sometimes a compound called polyethylene glycol (PEG) can be used to help keep lipid nanoparticles stable, as they are used in the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines. However, there is no graphene oxide in the PEG-lipid nanoparticles
No WHO authorized vaccines produced by Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, CanSino, Sinovac, Sputnik V, or Janssen contain graphene oxide. The Novavax COVID-19 vaccine has not yet published a list of its ingredients in a peer-reviewed or open access publication.
Graphene oxide is a compound that contains carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. It is used in many applications, from sensors to textiles to the potential application of medicine. This material is cheap, readily available, and can disperse in water. It is water soluble, so it may be a great solution for helping medications be absorbed. It can be produced as a powder or a solution for various uses.
Graphene oxide may be a useful tool in vaccine delivery in the future, because scientists and chemical engineers believe it can be engineered to be a safe delivery vehicle for vaccines, and help increase their effectiveness. Like lipid nanoparticles, graphene oxide is also a nanoparticle and has recently been used in an intranasal influenza vaccine platform with promising results.
Additionally, these nanoparticles have been shown to increase macrophages and T cells, which can boost our immune systems and generate potentially stronger immune responses. Recent studies have shown that graphene and graphene-related materials may have antiviral and antimicrobial properties, so evaluating them for use in medication and vaccine design is warranted.
While certain amounts of graphene oxide could be toxic to humans, current research on the use of this compound in other vaccines indicate that the amount that would be in potential vaccines would be so small that it would not be toxic to human cells. A 2016 study showed that graphene-base materials (like graphene oxide) might cause dose-dependent toxicity, decreased cell viability, formations of lung granuloma, and cell apoptosis. Notably, these studies were performed on mice, but graphene oxide specifically showed no obvious toxicity at low doses or middle doses from .1 to .25 mg. It was chronically toxic at higher doses of .4 mg, where it was found to deposit in the lungs, liver, spleen, and kidneys. It is important to note that this .4 mg of graphene oxide is proportionally much greater in mice than it would be in humans, considering their size and biological differences. Further, this study was completed 10 years ago and the graphene oxide was not chemically engineered in a manner that may make it safer or more tolerable for living organisms.
Many more studies and trials are needed to determine whether or not graphene oxide is an effective, completely safe, and useful material for biomedical applications including drug delivery, imaging, and biosensors. Current research on the compound has produced mixed results but optimism have been increased due to the success of recent research projects as of late.
Context and background
Viral videos, posts, and articles have been falsely written about the role of graphene oxide in COVID-19 vaccines, despite any actual evidence to support these findings. The ingredients of COVID-19 vaccines have been published and evaluated by independent groups, outside of Novavax, and found no graphene oxide in any part of their formulas.
Graphene oxide is currently being investigated to determine whether or not it can be a safe and effective tool for use in vaccines among other biomedical properties.
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