Activated charcoal is a jet-black powder made from peat, coconut shells, bamboo and other types of wood. It can be found in a range of products, from food and detox drinks to teeth-whitening and skincare products.
Dr. Bruce Anderson, who serves as the executive director of the Maryland Poison Center, told VERIFY that activated charcoal is often given to overdose patients to try and adsorb ingested toxins. Adsorption happens when one material, like activated charcoal, sticks to the surface of another. This is a different process than absorption, which means two materials chemically combine. With Anderson’s help, our team verified that activated charcoal can adsorb certain medications when taken orally after a video featuring a charcoal latte went viral in April 2021.
A VERIFY viewer wants to know whether taking activated charcoal before getting a dose of one of the COVID-19 vaccines can affect the shot’s efficacy.
Can taking activated charcoal affect COVID-19 vaccines?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Dr. Bruce Anderson, executive director of Maryland Poison Center and professor of pharmacy practice and science at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy
- Dr. Sherrill Brown, medical director at AltaMed Health Services
- Dr. Kawsar R. Talaat, associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
No, taking activated charcoal won't affect COVID-19 vaccines.
WHAT WE FOUND
Dr. Kawsar R. Talaat, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told VERIFY activated charcoal will not affect the COVID-19 vaccine’s efficacy because the jet black powder is ingested orally and does not enter the bloodstream as the vaccines do.
“It should not affect the vaccine in any way because activated charcoal, which we use in medicine when people have overdosed — we put it in to adsorb whatever poison or toxin that they have taken, so it's put into the stomach to adsorb toxins. It is not in the bloodstream. It is not something that is going to interact with your immune system in any way,” said Talaat.
Talaat says since the vaccine goes into our arms and induces our immune response by activating the immune cells in the arms and in the lymph nodes, it will not be affected by anything we put into our stomachs, including activated charcoal.
Dr. Sherrill Brown, the medical director at AltaMed Health Services in Los Angeles, also says while activated charcoal can definitely affect the efficacy of certain medications a person may take orally, it will not affect the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines.
“The vaccine actually goes into your arm and it goes into your bloodstream so that you can make an antibody response in your bloodstream. Activated charcoal shouldn't interact with that,” said Brown.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says most people who take medication can get a COVID-19 vaccine. However, the public health agency does not recommend taking over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or acetaminophen, before vaccination for the purpose of trying to prevent vaccine-related side effects.
While the CDC does not mention activated charcoal on its list of medications people should not take before receiving any of the COVID-19 vaccines, it explains why it is important to talk to your healthcare provider prior to getting vaccinated if you do take certain oral medications that may suppress your immune system.
“For most people, it is not recommended to avoid, discontinue, or delay medications that you are routinely taking for prevention or treatment of other medical conditions around the time of COVID-19 vaccination,” according to the CDC. “If you are taking medications that suppress the immune system, you should talk to your healthcare provider about what is currently known and not known about the effectiveness of getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Ask about the best timing for receiving a vaccine.”
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