Fact check: Bill Gates is not planning to microchip the world through a COVID-19 vaccine

The claim: Bill Gates intends to secretly implant microchips in people using the coronavirus vaccine

Bill Gates has long been the target of conspiracy theories about his vast fortune and charitable giving. But claims about the tech tycoon have reached a fever pitch in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Gates wants us microchipped and Fauci wants us to carry vax certificates,” reads one Facebook post with 22,000 shares. The same language has appeared on multiple posts on the platform.

“Due to the large number of people who will refuse the forthcoming covid-19 vaccine because it will include tracking microchips, the Gates Foundation is now spending billions of dollars to ensure that all medical and dental injections and procedures include the chips so that the only way to avoid being 'chipped' will be to refuse any and all dental and medical treatment,” another viral post on Facebook reads.

The claim has also gone viral on Spanish language pages and media, with some casting Gates as the mastermind of a massive conspiracy that echoes several other claims, including that Gates helped write the House Democrats’ proposed legislation, the TRACE Act.

Gates is not planning on implanting microchips in people around the world through vaccines. The claim has been debunked multiple times since the beginning of the pandemic, however, the allegation persists in many online corners.

More:Fact check: Bill Gates did not craft contact tracing bill

Gates denies microchip conspiracy theory

"I've never been involved any sort of microchip-type thing," Gates said in a call with reporters on June 3, adding, "It's almost hard to deny this stuff because it's so stupid or strange."

Gates meant for the call to be an announcement of another $1.6 billion in funding for immunization in lower-income countries, but the rampant conspiracy theories still came up. Many conspiracy theorists have claimed that Gates’ donations to public health efforts in developing countries are secretly mind-control efforts.

“In a way, it’s so bizarre you almost want to see it as something humorous, but it’s really not a humorous thing,” Gates said.

The coronavirus pandemic is ripe for misinformation.

“It’s frightening, it’s hard to understand, it’s required governments to restrict individual freedoms, and it will lead to mass vaccinations,” Matthew Hornsey, a social psychologist at the University of Queensland in Australia who studies scientific messaging, told USA TODAY. “That’s a perfect storm for conspiracy theories.”

There is no evidence that Gates or any major institution is trying to implant microchips in people through COVID-19 vaccines. Gates and others have repeatedly denied the claims.

Regardless, a May 20 Yahoo News/YouGov poll found that 44% of Republicans and 19% of Democrats believe Gates is planning to implant microchips in billions of people.

“This illness has been so severe I thought the anti-vaccine folks would be more muted in their approach, but this is apparently not the case,” William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious disease at Vanderbilt University, told USA TODAY.

“Here, people have a single issue that they have rallied behind; they don’t trust vaccinations. Conspiracy theories are then selectively embraced to justify that feeling," Hornsey said.

"That’s why people are prepared to believe ideas that seem strange and ridiculous to the rest of us. They want to believe it, so they set a very low bar for evidence.”

The origins and allure of the microchip conspiracy theory

Rich and famous people are frequently the center of conspiracy theories. The fact that Gates is a vocal proponent of public health initiatives long scrutinized by conspiratorial-minded groups only makes him an even riper target.

It is possible that the conspiracy theory partly originated from a December study published by a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The study was funded, in part, by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The team had developed an "approach to encode medical history on a patient" by including a small amount of dye with a vaccine. The dye, which would be invisible to the naked eye but observable through a specialized cellphone app using infrared light, would keep a record of a child's vaccines. The technique may be especially useful in developing countries, where record keeping is often more difficult.

The study never experimented on humans and did not involve any hardware technology, like microchips.

More:Fact check: Dr. Anthony Fauci, Bill Gates won't profit from drug remdesivir

“The quantum dot dye technology is not a microchip or human-implantable capsule and to my knowledge there are no plans to use this for coronavirus," Kevin McHugh, a lead author on the study, told Reuters.

Gates and his foundation have supported contact tracing efforts around the globe. The Gates Foundation has also funded vaccine efforts in developing countries over the years. These individual facts often combine online into narratives like the Gates microchip conspiracy theory, with no substantiating evidence.

"The fear of insertion of tracking chips and other things like that into our bodies has been a longstanding bogeyman for theorists," Mark Fenster, a University of Florida law professor, told PolitiFact.

"There is a lot of tracking that goes on, but the suggestion that it’s being used in this manner and this way seems absurd," he said.

More:Fact check: What's true and what's false about coronavirus?

Promotion of digital certificates

Others have also tried to link claims that Gates wants to create a "digital certificate" or "digital identity" for all people with the microchip conspiracy theory. Gates has said that some kind of "immunity certificate" may be necessary to reopen the economy, but the intended idea is far from mass surveillance or microchipping.

"Eventually what we’ll have to have is certificates of who’s a recovered person and who’s a vaccinated person, because you don’t want people moving around the world where you’ll have some countries that won’t have it under control," Gates said in a TED Talk in March.

That certificate would not be a physical implant or chip, but rather a digital item one could have on their smartphone or other personal device, as Gates later explained.

Anxieties about mass surveillance are a persistent issue in the digital age, further exacerbating conspiracy theories about the potential for microchipping from famous tech tycoons or the federal government.

Our ruling: False

There is no evidence Bill Gates is trying to implant microchips in people around the world through COVID-19 vaccines. And Gates has denied the claim.  We rate this claim FALSE because it is not supported by our research.

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Education coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Gates Foundation does not provide editorial input.