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MonitoringNanos - Nanos and Covid-19

Nanos and Covid-19

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Nanos and Covid-19

By AVICENN Team – Last Modified August 2022

Promises of nanotechnology and nanomaterials in the fight against covid-19

The covid-19 pandemic has given rise to a race against time to find and develop devices for testing, preventing and treating the virus as quickly as possible. Within the scientific and industrial community, promises and investments relating to the contributions of nanomaterials in the fight against the coronavirus have increased since the emergence of the pandemic.1See for example:
- Advances and Perspective on Antimicrobial Nanomaterials for Biomedical Applications, Garg P et al., Forehead. Nanotechnology. 2022
- Nanotechnologies against Covid-19, Régis Barille, The Conversation, February 11, 2021
- Application of Nanotechnology in the COVID-19 Pandemic, Yang D, DovePress, 16: 623-649, January 2021
- Pandemic Protection Is Accelerating Investment In Artificial Intelligence And Nanotechnology, Nano, January 2, 2021
- Toward Nanotechnology-Enabled Approaches against the COVID-19 Pandemic, Weiss C et al., DHW Nano 2020
- Why Go NANO on COVID-19 Pandemic?, Talebian S and Condé J, Matter., 2; 3(3): 598–601, 2020
- Nanoscale nights of COVID-19, Kostas Kostarelos, Nature Nanotechnology, April 27, 2020 and the comments of Raphaël Lévy (University of Liverpool) on his twitter account
- Can Nanotechnology and Materials Science Help the Fight against SARS-CoV-2?, Sportelli MC et al., MDPI, April 21, 2020
- COVID-19 Nanotech Product News March-April 2020, March/April 2020
- Nano Research for COVID-19, Warren CW Chan, ACS Nano, March 31, 2020
- Environmental disinfection for coronavirus BBZIX (silver nanoparticles), Zix, Osmayra, March 17, 2020
- Issue 60, March 2020: Antiviral and antimicrobial nanocoatings; Antiviral face mask products; Latest nanotech products, graphene news and nanomaterials regulationsMarch 2020Nanotechnology Solutions to Mitigate COVID-19: Detection, Protection, Medication, Borders

By way of illustration, we have noted from the first half of 2020 a few examples of applications of nanomaterials aimed at combating covid-19 (under development or already marketed), without claiming to be exhaustive:

Some of these "promises" are relayed in the media, even in certain academic journals, without necessarily being very substantiated.12The most extreme example is that of this “brief”: Chinese scientists have developed a new weapon to combat the coronavirus. They say they have found a nanomaterial that can absorb and deactivate the virus with 96.5-99.9% efficiency, Global Times, March 29, 2020.Another example: in Russia, the press relayed the development by the Baltic Federal University of innovative protective masks based on silver ions which “have not yet been tested for their ability to resist the new coronavirus, but [which] there is every reason to believe that Kaliningrad scientists will also show their effectiveness against SARS-CoV-2” (sic) (cf. Kaliningrad scientists have created antiviral masks with silver ions, Planet Today Russia, March 31, 2020).or without necessarily respecting the classic rules of procedure for scientific publications.. This is the case, more particularly, of several attempts to promote nanosilver, the effectiveness of which against covid-19 is scientifically less convincing.13The silver nanoparticles have recognized antibacterial properties, but what about their antiviral activity? They are nevertheless already applied, for example, to masks sold to fight against covid-19. See in particular note 5 above. that the interests of their authors14See in particular:
- Commentary by Raphaël Lévy, April 22, 2020, in response to the article Formulations for COVID-19 Early Stage Treatment via Silver Nanoparticles Inhalation Delivery at Home and Hospital, Science Open Preprints, March 28, 2020 (not validated by the reading committee)
- Coronavirus: miracle cures of the American ultra-right in the crosshairs of the authorities – Alex Jones, the American champion of conspiracy theorists, promotes products based on nano-silver, L'Opinion, April 10, 2020

This in no way excludes nanomaterials from offering effective solutions beyond the laboratory.
However, as for other medical applications, vigilance is essential: be careful not to underestimate the toxicity of nanomaterials, which require appropriate safeguards. Their risk for the health and undesirable effects of their large-scale dissemination in the environment are neither negligible nor systematically evaluated. Not to mention that the questions posed by the recycling or elimination of nano-waste do not have a substantiated answer to date.

What vigilance in the face of an emergency?

The issues do not arise at the same pace and with the same magnitude for the different nano applications. While the development and control of vaccines or medical treatments necessarily take a long time, the increasing marketing of disinfectants and protective equipment containing nanomaterials (masks or gowns, for example) is more likely to lead to a large-scale, short-term exposure of people and the environment15See for example:
- Nanoplastics and other harmful pollutants found within disposable face masks, Swansea University, May 2021 (press release)
- An investigation into the leaching of micro and nano particles and chemical pollutants from disposable face masks – linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sullivan GL et al., water research, 196, May 2021 (academic publication)

The health emergency linked to covid-19 cannot make us forget, or lead to circumventing, all the questions raised for a long time concerning the risks associated with nanoparticles, nanomaterials and nanotechnology.

In France in particular, the National Agency for the Safety of Medicines and Health Products (ANSM) has been proactively communicating on the subject of "nano" for a very long time.16See Biological evaluation of medical devices containing nanomaterials, Ansm, 2011; Since then, the Ansm has also produced a report on nanomaterials in drugs and medical devices, which, although expected since 2017, was not published on its site, only on the site in 2020! (See our page dedicated to nanomedicines) : its messages nevertheless remain topical; the use of nanomaterials assumes that the expected benefit is significant compared to other solutions, the toxicity and ecotoxicity of which are better known. It remains to be seen whether specific surveillance actions are deployed in the current context in order to protect caregivers, patients and, more broadly, the general population and the environment. From 2020, AVICENN began to question ANSES, ANSM, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Ecological Transition and the DGCCRF.

In the United States, the public authorities have contacted several companies17At least two companies were first called out by the FDA for promoting colloidal silver – containing silver nanoparticles – as a means of combating covid-19: Colloidal Vitality LLC/Vital Silver et N-Ergetics):
- Coronavirus Update: FDA and FTC Warn Seven Companies Selling Fraudulent Products that Claim to Treat or Prevent COVID-19, March 9 2020
- FDA Warns 7 Companies to Stop Claiming Silver and Other Products Treat Coronavirus, The New York Times, March 9, 2020
and a famous conspiratorial owner of an online sales site to ask them to stop promoting the anti-covid-19 virtues of their products based, among other things, on nanosilver18A few months later, other calls to order were made for products based on nano-silver again:
- Warning Letter to Natural Solutions Foundation, FDA, May 19, 2020 (Nano Silver 10 PPM)
- Warning Letter to Dr. Sherrill Sellman, FDA, June 1, 2020 (HealthMax Nano-Silver Liquid)

According to the precautionary principle, research must continue by demonstrating its ability to find (really) effective solutions but also to control the risks of the planned applications. NGOs and public authorities are not the only ones to call for vigilance, some voices within the scientific community are also seeking to mobilize in this direction.19See The impact of nanotechnology in the current universal COVID-19 crisis. Let's not forget nanosafety!, Vanessa Valdiglesias & Blanca Laffon, Nanotoxicology, 14(8) :1013-1016, 2020.

Applications of the precautionary principle concerning nanomaterials in masks 

The Covid-19 pandemic has also boosted the supply of antimicrobial and antiviral nano-coatings, especially for mouth masks. During the years 2020 and 2021, various controversies linked to the marketing of potentially toxic masks have underlined the need to change the regulatory framework concerning nanomaterials in mouth masks, and to favor the precautionary principle over a posteriori risk management. .  

Alerts and controversies related to the use of a virucidal coating

Silver and copper zeolites in DIM masks

Among these controversies is that of the fabric masks of the DIM brand treated with silver zeolites and silver and copper zeolites and distributed to teachers and a large part of the administration from May 2020. Reporterre alerted to their potential toxicity which led the Ministry of Labor and Education to suspend the distribution of DIM masks as a precaution. ANSES received a request to estimate the potential risks associated with wearing washable fabric masks treated with these two active substances and concluded urgently that “under the actual conditions of wearing the treated masks, any health risk cannot be excluded”.

Removal of masks containing TiO2 and silver nanoparticles

In Belgium, a similar event took place, while the Belgian government had distributed masks free of charge in June 2020, which were later found to be potentially toxic. Indeed, on February 23, 2021, the Belgian press revealed that a investigation report (then confidential but later made public) from the Belgian health institute Sciensano shows that the masks distributed by the government in 2020 contain nanoparticles of silver and titanium dioxide. Based on theopinion of the Superior Health Council Belgian (CSS) and as a precaution, the authorities recommended20These recommendations remain valid, following the publication on August 26, 2021 by the CSS of a Risk Assessment cloth mouth masks treated with a silver-based biocide, pending the results of a further study (in progress, led by Sciensano and VITO). to no longer distribute or wear them.

Removal of masks containing graphene

Silver and titanium dioxide nanoparticles are not the only substances used as a biocidal coating. Graphene, for example, has won over some manufacturers for its antiviral properties and has been incorporated into many masks without having been sufficiently assessed for potential health impacts. The timeline below shows how graphene masks from Chinese manufacturer Shandong Shengquan triggered a cascade of recalls in Canada, as in Europe.

Timeline of graphene mask recalls

A risk assessment is reportedly underway by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). To be continued then…

A regulation that takes its time

As of the end of 2020, the German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA) publishes a press release concluding that "as the benefit of a virucidal / antiviral treatment of masks has not yet been proven and their safety has not been verified by the authorities, the BAuA refrains from recommending the use of such masks"21See Can we wear nose covers and other virucidal / antiviral masks without hesitation?, BAuA, December 1, 2021.

However, faced with the growing marketing of masks covered with a virucidal treatment, in January 2021, in a letter published online22See Open letter to ECHA, AVICENN, HCWH, HEAL, SKY, EEB, …, January 20, 2021 in association with twelve other European NGOs, Avicenn requested clarification from the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) on the regulatory framework and risk management measures in place at European level on these issues. ECHA's response, dated 10 February23See Reply to letter from HCWH Europe, ECHA, 10 February 2021, confirmed that checks on compliance with the Biocides Regulation are the responsibility of the Member States and underlined that only two active substances are currently authorized at the nanoscale as disinfectants or preservatives (silver for product types 2, 5 and 9 and silver adsorbed on silicon dioxide for type of products 9). 

On February 19, 2021, in its online post, the NGO Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) reiterates the observation made previously: the regulation of articles treated with nano/biocides does not keep pace with the development rate of new products and does not guarantee their safety24Is the regulation of nano/biocide-treated articles sufficient to protect health and environment?, HCWH, 19 February 2021.. The NGOs are still seeking to clarify certain confusing points at the level of the regulations and to have more information on market surveillance by the Member States.

This regulation changes on August 24, 2021, when the European Commission decides on the non-approval of silver as a nanomaterial for product types 2,4 and 9. This decision, disapproving of nano-silver as a biocide in products for the protection of fibers, leather, rubber and polymerized materials, follows various controversies of the marketing and use of nano-silver in mouth masks . 

Furthermore, in a notice to operators published on June 10, 2021, the DGCCRF and the ANSM recall a few essential points to be taken into consideration before placing surgical masks on the market.

Untangling fact from fiction around nanoparticles in vaccines and tests

As part of its monitoring, the AVICENN association has observed since the Covid-19 health crisis a very significant increase, on social networks, in fears and certain fake news.25See for example:
- Preview of tweets with the keywords #nanoparticles and #5G
- Can Covid PCR tests be a way to surreptitiously infect or implant people?, Sott, August 20, 2020 → Alexandra Henrion-Caude's comments concerning, among other things, nanoparticles are scientifically erroneous:
- "Coronavirus: why PCR tests need to get to the bottom of the nose", The World, July 9, 2020
- Virus manipulated by humans, danger of masks… (nanoparticles in PCR test swabs) Inserm dissociates itself from one of its ex-researchers, LCI, October 5, 2020
- PCR tests do not reach the "cribriform plate" and are more efficient than saliva tests, AFP, December 24, 2020
- 5G, nanoparticles, Covid-19 “patents”… A viral video multiplies fake news, LCI, August 25, 2020
alerting to the allegedly deliberate use of nanoparticles, in vaccines (and more temporarily, in the fall of 2020, in PCR tests), the "hidden" purpose of which would be to trace, even subjugate or even eliminate a part of the population (with 5G sometimes invoked as a tool for remote activation).

How to disentangle the true from the false? If some fact-checking efforts are made26See for example:
- Are there really nanoparticles in the Pfizer vaccine?, Thomas Deszpot, LCI, February 17, 2021: “Internet users point out that Pfizer vaccines contain nanoparticles, which would give reason to whistleblowers accused of conspiracy. If their presence is very real, their role is totally misunderstood”
- Covid-19: can vaccines modify DNA? Can the nanoparticles present in the vaccine be used to “trace” citizens via 5G?, Bruno Pitard, CNRS research director and Inserm researcher at the Nantes-Angers immunology research center, France Culture, January 20, 2021
- Conspiracy theories: would it be possible to integrate nanochips into a vaccine?, Trust my science, January 20, 2021
- RNA vaccines contain dangerous nanoparticles? Fake, The Rumor Detector, Science Presse (Canada), December 29, 2020 and
- Nanoparticles and vaccines against Covid-19: five questions to disentangle fact from fiction, Assma Maad, Le Monde, December 11, 2020; To be completed by reading the following article: Pfizer's COVID vaccine contains compound that may be responsible for rare allergic reactions, Trust my science, December 30, 2020 Suspicions grow that nanoparticles in Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine trigger rare allergic reactions, Jop de Vrieze, Science, December 21, 2020)
- PCR tests do not reach the "cribriform plate" and are more efficient than saliva tests, AFP, December 24, 2020
- Nanotechnologies at the heart of the conspiracy – Why did the nanoparticle end up in all the conspiracies?, Xavier de La Porte, The Code has changed podcast, France Inter, December 8, 2020
- Will a tracking device (nanoparticles) be present in any of the new vaccines?, Quora, November – December 2020
- Virus manipulated by humans, danger of masks… (nanoparticles in PCR test swabs) Inserm dissociates itself from one of its ex-researchers, LCI, October 5, 2020
- Covid-19 and conspiracy September 8, 2020
- 5G, nanoparticles, Covid-19 “patents”… A viral video multiplies fake news, LCI, August 25, 2020
- COVID-19 and 5G: researchers show how this fake news has spread around the world, RTBF, August 9, 2020
- Coronavirus: why PCR tests need to go deep in the nose, The World, July 9, 2020
- 5G waves responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic, really? Detox channel, INSERM, April 15, 2020
- Are vaccines “contaminated with toxic nanoparticles”?, The World, July 19, 2017
and necessary27See in particular:
- When mistrust supplants science, Jean-Philippe Dubrulle, Jean Jaurès Foundation, February 1, 2021
- Hearing of Messrs. Patrick Berche, Alain Fischer and Patrick Netter, members of the National Academy of Medicine, on vaccines against covid-19, by Mr. Cédric Villani, MP, President of the Parliamentary Office for the Evaluation of Scientific and Technological Choices, OPECST, November 19, 2020
, is their effectiveness condemned in advance to be only marginal?28See Fact Checking – A Contested Effectiveness, Wikipedia? In any case the lipid nanoparticles present in the vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNtech, Moderna and Novavax in particular have the sole function of encapsulating and protecting the messenger RNA or conveying the antigen to the cells.

That being said, there is still a real need for a response from the health authorities concerning the older and more legitimate questions about the presence and safety of nanoparticles – mainly metallic – potentially present in some other vaccines” classics by unintentional contamination, or in vaccines under development (with or without a link to covid-19). The inability to inform and dialogue about the problems posed by a new and complex technology can fuel certain suspicions and fantasies.

In July 2021, another rumor, widely relayed on social networks, claimed that graphene would be present in the Pfizer vaccine. After examination, it turns out that it is not based on any serious element29See in particular:
In French :
- Covid-19 vaccine: Attention, these videos do not show “graphene”, France 24, August 3, 2021
- Vaccination: no, "Spanish researchers" have not shown that Pfizer "contains an unknown product", LCI, July 8, 2021Désinfox Covid-19: no, no study proves that the Pfizer vaccine contains graphene, Le Progrès, July 15, 2021
In English :
- Fact-checking – Pfizer vaccine does not contain graphene oxide, Associated Press, July 8, 2021.

To be continued…

Learn more about Nanos & Covid-19

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A remark, a question? This sheet produced by AVICENN is intended to be supplemented and updated. Please feel free to contribute.

Our next nano appointments

“Nano and Health” dialogue committee (ANSES, Maisons-Alfort)
Dialogue Committee
  • 14th meeting of the “nano and health” dialogue committee
  • Organizer: ANSES
  • Website :
Nanomaterials, how to identify them more efficiently? (LNE, Paris)
  • Technical Day
  • Organizer: National Metrology and Testing Laboratory (LNE)
  • On the agenda: identification of nanomaterials, recent technological innovations in terms of particle size characterization, areas for progress to be considered 
  • Upcoming program
  • Website :…
NanoSafe conference 2023 (CEA, Grenoble)
  • 8th International Conference on Health Issues for a Responsible Approach to Nanomaterials
  • June 5-9, 2023
  • Organizer: Commissariat for Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies (CEA)
  • Website :…  

This listing was originally created in March 2020

Notes & references

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