The COVID-19 vaccine won’t change your DNA.
None of the three vaccines between Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson actually enter the nuclei in a person’s cell, according to the CDC, meaning none of them actually interact with DNA or a genome.
“The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines, which teach our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response,” according to the CDC. “The mRNA from a COVID-19 vaccine never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA is kept. This means the mRNA cannot affect or interact with our DNA in any way.”
Regarding the Johnson & Johnson shot, the material it delivers to a person’s cells “does not integrate into a person’s DNA,” the CDC states. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was temporarily halted in Michigan following guidance from federal regulators after six people nationwide reported rare, but serious blood clots.
Infectious disease and biology experts however said none of the vaccines access or change DNA, refuting a series of conspiracy theories circling around social media.
The concern over DNA alteration was perhaps most prominently voiced in an April 8 article in The Defender, a publication run by the anti-vaccination group Children’s Health Defense. The post cited a preprinted research paper from Harvard and MIT scientists that asserts that mRNA from the virus can “very rarely” persist in an individual’s body tissue even after infection.
Richard Young, a co-author on the paper and an MIT professor of biology, told MLive it’s “terrible” his team’s research is being used in anti-vax circles, since his team’s findings only address the COVID-19 virus and not any of the vaccines.
“It is possible that the (COVID-19) virus might integrate on a rare instance into a human genome into tissue culture itself,” Young said. “But the vaccine is just a tiny piece of spike protein in an mRNA molecule. So when the vaccine mRNA goes into the cell, it only goes into the cytoplasm where it can be made into proteins by ribosomes. So it doesn’t even go into the nucleus.”
Spike proteins, according to the CDC, trigger our immune system cells to recognize the COVID-19 virus and begin producing antibodies to fight the infection.
Young said he and his colleagues’ research should be seen as more reason to avoid natural COVID-19 infection, not to avoid the vaccine. Compared to the virus, the vaccine carries less than 1% of the molecules used to replicate viral mRNA that can lead to “very rare” genetic alteration, Young said.
“If you were weighing a concern, I’d be very concerned about being infected with the virus,” he said, “because the virus is giving some people ‘long COVID,’ whereas the vaccine doesn’t seem to be hurting anyone.”
While the Johnson and Johnson vaccine works differently than its counterparts, it accomplishes the same goal of creating proteins to catalyze the creation of antibodies, said Dr. Anthony Ognjan, infection disease doctor with MacLaren Macomb hospital.
“It’s called a viral vector vaccine,” he said. “Similar to AstraZeneca, what it does is it takes the virus and creates a kind of infection in people, but not really...it attaches spike proteins to the virus, the viruses are naturally taken up by the cells and then the cells process automatically an immune reaction.”
The bottom-line: the COVID-19 vaccines “does not get incorporated into human DNA,” Ognjan said. Vaccines that treat herpes are examples of ones that can alter DNA, but the COVID-19 shots don’t follow the same method.
The genetic alteration concern picks up on a fear some people have about how changed DNA leaves some individuals susceptible to cancer down the road, Ognjan said. While altered DNA does carry those risks, that fear is being conflated with the COVID-19 vaccine in a frustrating way, he said.
“People who don’t understand the science, anti-vaxxers and pseudoscientists are taking advantage of people’s naivety and not understanding the basic science of what’s going on,” he said. “You see that stuff get scattered over the internet, and it drives me crazy.”
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