- A video is being shared online that incorrectly tells people that a “detox bath” of borax and Epsom salts can counteract the effects of the COVID-19 vaccine.
- Experts say there’s no basis in fact for the claims made in the video.
- They say the bath has no effect on the vaccine and, even if it did, the vaccine works too quickly for such a bath to have any effect.
- They say this video is the latest in a flood of misinformation that’s spreading and endangering people’s health.
A viral TikTok video that explains how to “detox” the body after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine has infectious disease experts scratching their heads and issuing warnings.
The video, which was taken down by TikTok but shared hundreds of thousands of times, suggests that, by soaking in a bath of borax and Epsom salts, you can remove the vaccine from your body.
It’s just the latest, experts say, in an ever-increasing flow of false statements that one doctor calls “a pandemic of misinformation.” Experts say this misinformation needs to be brought under control as much as the virus itself.
According to experts, the “detox bath” suggestion has no basis in fact.
“There is no medical or scientific research that proves that these methods will remove toxins from your body,” Dr. Farzana Hoque, a hospitalist at SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital in Missouri, told Healthline.
In fact, she added, “some of these methods can be dangerous to your body, especially for those who have sensitive skin. From a medical perspective, I would definitely not recommend using this method to attempt to remove any toxins from your body.”
Vaccines, such as the one for COVID-19, enter the body and begin their work quickly, explained Jason Gallagher, PharmD, a clinical professor of infectious diseases at Temple University in Philadelphia.
That means that, even if those ingredients could “detox” a vaccine (which they cannot), the timing would still make it impossible.
“The mRNA vaccine is taken into the cells at the injection area, and the body reacts and produces [the materials to fight the COVID-19 cells],” Gallagher told Healthline. “It happens right there, and it happens quickly.”
“Once given, [the vaccine] is permanent, immediate, and irreversible,” he told Healthline.
Lahita suggested picturing the vaccine’s messenger RNA component as an M&M candy. The sugar coating, he explained, is made of fat and protein and is there to protect the chocolate middle — which is the RNA — as it moves in the body to create the protection.
The cells in the immune system “swallow” all that, and that helps the body fight off COVID-19.
Additionally, experts say, the vaccine is effective in reducing the risk of contracting the coronavirus or, should a vaccinated person develop COVID-19, the vaccine is effective in keeping the symptoms more manageable.
“Just get the vaccine,” Lahita said. “You won’t end up going to the hospital or dying. That’s the goal.”
The flow of misinformation, like the TikTok video, continues to be a challenge, according to experts.
It’s not, Gallagher said, that misinformation is a new problem. It’s just that the methods the world has to share them are now more plentiful.
“The only difference between now and before is the internet,” he said. “Now you can spread eccentric ideas more easily.”
That is something everyone should be concerned with, according to Nathan Walter, PhD, a professor of communication studies at Northwestern University in Illinois.
“We should care because these videos affect beliefs — and also behaviors,” he told Healthline.
Walter, who has led a study on the topic, said the root cause of people embracing misinformation is better understood now.
“We used to think we had a problem with health literacy,” he said, “and that once we get people information, it will be OK.”
Now, he said, “we know it is not a problem of education. It’s a problem of perception.”
As humans, he said, we are “susceptible” to misinformation, because “it has an inherent advantage in that it is not bounded by fact.”
It’s new and gets clicks, he said. And with what we learn about the coronavirus shifting over time, the public can — and in many cases has — built a mistrust of experts who are, he said, “bound to facts.”
So when, say, guidelines change based on new facts, the general public who may feel doubt can quickly think, “See! They were wrong,” and turn their trust to someone who may not, he said, be bound to fact.
“We have a crisis of trust, and we’re not acknowledging it,” Walter said.
How can individuals and society combat misinformation like this? It’s not easy.
“Right now, we have to rely on the platforms to do it,” Jeffrey Layne Blevins, PhD, a professor in the department of journalism at the University of Cincinnati, told Healthline.
But that isn’t enough, he said, because, “it’s a little too late. Once the genie is out of the bottle, it doesn’t really go back in.”
Add to that the general distrust of both the medical community and journalists, “two institutions demonized by the previous presidential administration and the current belief from the far right, and those that are rooted in cultural politics don’t want to believe what we have to say anyway,” he said.
That, he noted, lends itself to a TikTok video about borax sometimes feeling trustworthy.
All it seems to take, he said, is a lab coat and a social media platform, for someone to refute what may be fact.
“So if the CDC is saying, for instance, don’t take ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine, but there is a video with people in lab coats saying, ‘No, take these drugs,’ sadly, it’s at least a tie in the minds of most people,” Blevins said.
“The public isn’t as critically minded to weigh different sources against each other and recognize which one is the more expert and authoritative voice,” he added.
This can set off a storm, like the “detox bath” video.
“It’s like dropping Mentos into a Diet Coke and shaking it,” Walter said. “It’s going to explode.”
For now, experts say, medical doctors and concerned friends should approach such things with a nuanced strategy.
“The best way to respond is to listen and try to understand where they’re coming from,” Hoque said.
She suggested both doctors and friends remain open-minded and willing to listen.
“Then, after you’ve heard their concerns, encourage them to do their own research through trusted sources, such as the CDC, FDA, or other government authorized resources,” she said.
For society as a whole, Blevins said we may need to drill down and, instead of trying to change entire platforms, look at individuals.
“We have to look at the individual influencers on these platforms,” he said, and disprove or remove them.
For instance, in a recent study Blevins completed about how misinformation about hydroxychloroquine spread on Twitter, “it was a few Q-Anon related accounts that were the initial source, but it was the bridge actors (the influencers), including President Trump, far-right media pundits, and celebrities, that repeated these claims and helped them spread.”
That kind of intricate study and removal of information may help, he said.
Walter said it’s time to look at misinformation as a pandemic in itself.
“Rather than play whack-a-mole, let’s think of how we can inoculate against misinformation, like we do the virus,” he said. “Things like this [detox video] need to be stopped.”