- This story is regularly updated for relevance. Last updated: Aug. 3, 2021
Falsehoods and misconceptions about the COVID-19 vaccines have been running rampant since the start of the pandemic. From outrageous claims that the vaccines contain microchips to unfounded fertility concerns, there are no shortage of vaccine conspiracy theories. A new concern among vaccine skeptics is that mRNA COVID vaccines—like those from Pfizer and Moderna—can somehow alter your DNA structure, leading to long-term health issues.
Like many of the rumors circulating about the vaccines, this idea is unequivocally and patently untrue.
Rob Murphy, executive director of the Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University, told the Washington Post it’s “amazing how often that question comes up.”
RNA—or ribonucleic acid—is a molecule similar to DNA. The mRNA vaccines contain molecular instructions that deliver a small amount of genetic code to cells, which then replicate the virus’s surface protein “spike.” Surface proteins then activate the immune system, which in turn teaches itself to identify the spike as a foreign entity. If you are later exposed to the actual virus, your immune system will know how to recognize and destroy it.
The mRNA does not enter the nucleus of the cells where DNA resides. Instead, it completely breaks down once the instructions have been delivered to your cells. There is no way any of the COVID-19 vaccines can alter your DNA, according to experts.
“There literally is no physical connection between the RNA in these vaccines and the DNA in our cellular nuclei,” Jason L. Schwartz, an assistant professor of health policy at the Yale School of Public Health, told the Washington Post. “So there’s no possibility for that connection, let alone for effects or adaptations.”
Even valid health concerns regarding side effects, such as the blood clots that temporarily suspended the Johnson & Johnson vaccine (and helped caused it to fail to reach the heights of Pfizer and Moderna in the U.S.), have negligible risks when compared to actually contracting the virus itself.
“We’re never going to really reach herd immunity. COVID-19 is going to become an endemic disease,” Murphy said. “So virtually everyone in the world is either going to take a vaccine or get infected with COVID-19. And COVID-19 is a very bad disease.”
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