A popular social media video does not prove that COVID-19 vaccines contain product numbers detectable through a Quick Response (QR) code scanner.
The claim arose when a TikTok video was posted on Aug. 13 with the caption: “My dad QR scanning my uncles [sic] vaccinated arm”. It appeared to show a man scanning another individual’s arm with a phone, after which a product number appeared on the screen (here).
The clip spread across other platforms (here , here , here), with people writing “QR code scanner? Australia is tracking you…” (here) and “This is Australia - QR scan code shows you your product number, you are the product. Test it out and tell us your number” (here).
Reuters has recently seen an increase in misinformation coming out of Australia (here , here , here).
However, a technology expert gave several reasons why these claims are false.
Louis-James Davis, founder of code scanning technology company ‘VCode’ and creator of a digital health passport to tackle the pandemic (here , here), told Reuters in a Twitter message that vaccines are not unique to each person and could not be used to inject individual information.
He added that QR codes are a visual symbol and would only operate in the form of a tattoo or other physical marking.
QR codes were invented in 1994 in Japan for use in the automotive industry. The codes are a two-dimensional square barcode containing information such as a web address or a person’s contact information that are read by smartphones (here , here).
Davis said: “The video looks like they have used a combined QR Near Field Communication (NFC) reader which could have picked up an NFC tag in the garment in close proximity.”
NFC technology is used for digital file sharing but requires physical contact and proximity. It works by using a small chip, known as a tag, that creates a wireless connection. For instance, contactless payments through credit cards and Apple Pay use NFC technology (here , www.unitag.io/nfc/what-is-nfc).
There are many cheap apps available to use this technology, such as ‘NFC Tools’ on Google Play for Android (here) or ‘Decode – NFC Scanner’ on the App Store for iPhone (here).
The person who filmed the original video said on TikTok they had used an app but told other users it was no longer available (here) and did not know the name (here). Reuters contacted the individual on Facebook to ask which app was used, but they did not respond.
Some users said the video was replicated in a similar clip appearing to show a pet microchip scanner read a number from a vaccinated woman’s arm (here), but the creator of that video said it was a joke using a dog microchip (here). Reuters has repeatedly debunked conspiracies that COVID-19 vaccines contain tracking devices (here , here , here).
False. Video does not show QR code at COVID-19 vaccine injection site.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .
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