False! COVID-19 Vaccines Do Not Alter DNA

More than 271 million people across 108 countries have taken their jabs according to Bloomberg’s Global Vaccine Tracker.

A large number of people are still reluctant about taking the jabs, ascribing reasons which have been debunked in our earlier reports (here, here, and here).

One of the popular mistruths which emerged on social media is that the COVID_19 vaccines could cause a change in the Deoxyribonucleic Acid popularly known as DNA.

Fact-check Ghana presents below a report from medical and health experts, debunking the widely shared claim.

Safety trials for vaccines begin in the lab, with tests and research on cells and animals, before moving on to human studies. This gives room for trials to move to the next stage if no outstanding safety concerns are identified.

This controlled group of people who undergo the trial is monitored in order to identify side effects (if any). And usually, the trials are conducted on a large number of people. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines for example had about 40,000 volunteers before its approval in the UK. The phase 2 clinical trials of the Sputnik V vaccine also had 20,000 volunteers. So are the many other vaccines.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drugs Authority in the US, UK, and many parts of Africa including Ghana are tasked with the responsibility to ensure the safety of drugs.

Vaccines are developed using ribonucleic acid (RNA) technology, according to scientists. RNA is a sequence of genetic code that tells cells what proteins to build so that they can function. Scientists say because of the closeness of RNA to the DNA, it is present in all living cells.

When the vaccines are injected into the human body, the cells read it as an instruction to start building the proteins, including, in this case, COVID-19’s distinctive ‘spike’ protein.

Experts say after taking the vaccines, our bodies then mount an immune response by producing antibodies to fight the virus proteins made by our cells (should we encounter it later).

Whereas there do exist DNA vaccines, scientists say this current procedure does not create a genetically modified organism.

A visiting fellow at Cornell University’s Alliance for Science group debunked the idea that a DNA vaccine could genetically alter an organism, Mark Lynas, told Reuters that no vaccine can genetically modify human DNA.

“Genetic modification would involve the deliberate insertion of foreign DNA into the nucleus of a human cell, and vaccines simply don’t do that. Vaccines work by training the immune system to recognise a pathogen when it attempts to infect the body – this is mostly done by the injection of viral antigens or weakened live viruses that stimulate an immune response through the production of antibodies.” he said, further noting that “It’s just a myth, one often spread intentionally by anti-vaccination activists to deliberately generate confusion and mistrust”.

In an email correspondent to Reuters backing Lynas’ explanation, Paul McCray, Professor of Pediatrics, Microbiology, and Internal Medicine at the University of Iowa said:

“For COVID-19, the main protein used to boost the immune system is the spike (S) protein from the virus. This can be given as a vaccine in many different forms: as inactivated (dead) virus, as expressed protein, in a DNA or RNA vector that will make cells make this protein, etc. So, the only modification to the host is to stimulate them to make antibodies and T cells that will prevent infection with the virus or kill any infected cells to prevent or reduce disease severity. This is what happens if you get a virus infection naturally, but the vaccine takes the risk of serious disease out of the equation.”

Gavi, the vaccine alliance movement which includes the World Health Organization said messenger Ribonucleic acid (mRNA) isn’t the same as DNA, and it can’t combine with our DNA to change our genetic code.

In a report published by Gavi, it said “some viruses like HIV can integrate their genetic material into the DNA of their hosts, but this isn’t true of all viruses, and HIV can only do so with the help of specialised enzymes that it carries with it. mRNA vaccines don’t carry these enzymes, so there is no risk of the genetic material they contain altering our DNA”.

This report is produced under the project: COVID-19 Response in Africa: Together for Reliable Information being implemented with funding support from the European Union.

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