Fact check: Moderna vaccine does not include poisonous substances

The claim: Moderna vaccine has poisonous SM-102 chemical in it

More than 60% of adults have now received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and as the CDC has issued new guidance on mask wearing for vaccinated people, much of the country is beginning to return to a sense of normalcy. 

However, hesitancy surrounding COVID-19 vaccines is still prominent, and political affiliation is playing a role in people’s willingness to get vaccinated.

A May 17 article by far-right commentator Hal Turner is contributing to vaccine misinformation.

The article claims the Moderna vaccine includes a “deadly poison SM-102, not for human or veterinary use,” and that recipients of the vaccine are “apparently being poisoned!”

Variations of the claim are also spreading on Facebook and Instagram. USA TODAY has reached out to the posters for comment.

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A substance called SM-102 is part of the Moderna vaccine, but it’s not remotely what these posts claim it is. 

Moderna vaccine ingredient is not poisonous

The article says the Connecticut Department of Public Health published a list of the Moderna vaccine’s ingredients, confirming that it contains a lipid, or fat, known as SM-102.

A list of the ingredients in the Moderna vaccine had already been published by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration following the department’s emergency use authorization of the vaccine in December.

The list confirms SM-102 is an ingredient in the Moderna vaccine. But the viral social media posts are misrepresenting the product and its effect on vaccine recipients.

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Derek Lowe, a longtime drug discovery researcher and author, said SM-102 is a “crucial” ingredient in the Moderna vaccine.

According to Lowe, the lipid “encases the mRNA as it’s injected to keep it protected from a bunch of enzymes and stuff in the body that would tear it apart … it also seems to be a big part in getting it through the cell membrane.”

SM-102 product referenced as proof is different

Many of the posts condemning SM-102 are highlighting Cayman Chemical, an American biotechnology company that makes SM-102.

The company’s SM-102 safety sheet says the chemical is “fatal in contact with skin” and “causes damage to the central nervous system, the kidneys, the liver and the respiratory system through prolonged or repeated exposure.”

But the product referenced there isn’t raw SM-102. It’s SM-102 mixed with chloroform, a colorless toxic liquid that the safety sheet indicates is the dangerous ingredient, not the SM-102.

It is common for substances — like chloroform — to be mixed with other chemicals to help them properly dissolve, which is the purpose it serves in this case as well, Lowe said. 

Chloroform is not an ingredient in the Moderna vaccine.

In a May 19 statement, Cayman Chemicals addressed misinformation surrounding its SM-102 product.

“Neither the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Registry of Toxic Effects of Chemical Substances (RTECS), or the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) Classification and Labelling Inventory list any hazards associated with SM-102,” the statement reads.

The statement also noted active pharmaceutical ingredients used for commercial manufacturing, like SM-102, “adhere to strict guidelines under FDA-regulated Good Manufacture Practice protocols to ensure their safety for human and veterinary use.”

The social media posts also pointed out that Cayman Chemical’s Safety Data Sheet for SM-102 says it is “not for human or veterinary use.”

Lowe said this disclaimer is “boiler plate,” or standard practice, for all research chemical sites because of regulations, including for products that are “utterly non-toxic.”

“If you look up [Cayman Chemical’s] solution of sodium chloride and water, AKA table salt and tap water, it says not for human or veterinary use,” Lowe said. “If you look up their glucose or sugar, it says not for human or veterinary use.”

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USA TODAY has reached out to Moderna for comment.

Our rating: False

The claim that Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine includes a dangerous chemical, SM-102, is FALSE, based on our research. While it is correct that the Moderna vaccine includes SM-102, the primary claim that the chemical is poisoning or harming Moderna vaccine recipients is inaccurate and false. According to an expert, SM-102’s purpose in the vaccine is to encase and protect the mRNA while also helping it to get through cell membranes. The version of SM-102 referenced by  the manufacturer’s safety sheet as being dangerous is a combination of SM-102 and chloroform.

Our fact-check sources:

  • The New York Times, May 19, See How Vaccinations Are Going in Your County and State
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 13, Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People
  • PEW, April 23, Republican Men Are Vaccine-Hesitant, But There’s Little Focus on Them
  • Science Translational Medicine, accessed May 25, About Derek Lowe
  • Food and Drug Administration, Dec. 18, 2020, Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine
  • Cayman Chemicals, April 11, Safety Data Sheet acc. to OSHA HCS
  • Cayman Chemicals, accessed May 25, SM-102
  • Cayman Chemicals, May 19, SM-102 for Research Use Only (RUO)
  • Cayman Chemicals, accessed May 25, SAFETY DATA SHEET Sodium Chloride Stock Solution (5 M)
  • Cayman Chemicals, accessed May 25, “Safety Data Sheet acc. to OSHA HCS”
  • Derek Lowe, May 22, Phone interview with USA TODAY

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