This week, I wanted to cover something important that we haven’t covered before here at SBM. So I asked myself: What topic related to COVID-19 have we at SBM not covered yet that we really should have covered by now? Given that Steve has already covered the first two COVID-19 vaccines going to the FDA for approval and possible emergency use authorization (EUA), the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it didn’t make sense for me to discuss COVID-19 vaccines again. Then it occurred to me. These two new vaccines that will likely soon be available, at least to “essential personnel” such as medical personnel treating COVID-19 patients anyway, share one thing in common. They are RNA vaccines. What also occurred to me is that there has been a persistent myth about RNA vaccines being promoted by the antivaccine movement. Perhaps you’ve seen it? Yes? No?

Perhaps you’ve seen memes like this:

False mRNA COVID vaccine meme

Or this one:
False COVID mRNA vaccine meme

Or this one:
False Bill Gates antivaccine meme

Or this one:
False COVID-19 mRNA vaccine meme

You get the idea. One major theme of antivaccine disinformation related to potential RNA vaccines against COVID-19 is that the RNA used in the vaccine will somehow permanently “reprogram” your DNA in nefarious ways. It’s a claim that goes back at least to May, if not sooner, and arose as soon as antivaxxers became aware that one of the leading candidate vaccines against COVID-19 was Moderna’s RNA vaccine. After that, it soon became a standard talking point in the antivaccine movement’s pre-emptive disinformation war against COVID-19 vaccines. Why would anyone want to do this? Conspiracy theorists always have…reasons…of course. Some say that it’s to mark people. Some people say it’s to develop a technology that allows you to inject DNA directly into cells and reprogram them (Would that this were true! Such technologies would make gene therapy so much less difficult!) Often, antivaxxers conflate RNA with DNA and vice-versa, not realizing that, although both molecules contain genetic information needed for a cell to make protein, they are nonetheless very different in characteristics and behavior.

Of course, to experts the claim that RNA vaccines will somehow “reprogram” your DNA claims are utterly risible in the ignorance of basic biology and biochemistry necessary to make such unscientific claims. But to nonexperts, most of whom probably long ago forgot their basic biology (if they ever learned it at all), the concept of a vaccine that turns your own cells into little factories making part of a key protein from COVID-19 that provokes a protective immune response (more on the specifics later) can seem quite plausible—and scary. Of course, fear is exactly the intended purpose of the antivaccine disinformation claiming that RNA vaccines will somehow “reprogram” your DNA and permanently alter you genetically. (We do hope for one “permanent” alteration in our biology as a result of a COVID-19, though, namely immunity to SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Unfortunately, it’s not yet clear how long such immunity will last.) So let’s examine the claims being made and why you don’t have to fear RNA vaccines for COVID-19.

Before we do that, let’s look at what mRNA vaccines are, how they work, and what their advantages and disadvantages are compared to traditional vaccines.

mRNA vaccines

mRNA vaccines rely on something I’ve discussed before, namely the “central dogma” of molecular biology. I must admit, I’ve always hated the use of the word “dogma” associated with science, but no less a luminary than Francis Crick first stated it in 1958, and it has been restated over the years in various ways. Perhaps my favorite version of the central dogma was succinctly stated by Marshall Nirenberg in 1958 and has since been commonly paraphrased to say, “DNA makes RNA makes protein”, which about summed up all of molecular biology in five words. (Why I used the past tense in a moment.) In any event, for purposes of understanding RNA viruses, this is the main sequence that you need to understand:
Central Dogma of Molecular Biology

Basically, DNA replicates from a DNA template and results in a double-stranded molecule that is very stable, as it has complementary sequences that tightly bind to each other in a sequence-specific fashion. This DNA template is unwound by enzymes that use the template to make RNA strands, which are single-stranded, which is then used by a ribosome to make protein out of amino acids. Again, to put it simply, each nucleotide equals one letter of the code; each three-nucleotide sequence (codon) equals one “word” that translates to an amino acid. Given that there are four nucleotides, there are 64 possible codons. Since there are only 20 amino acids, that means that most amino acids are encoded by more than one combination of nucleotides or more than one codon; i.e., the genetic code is redundant. Of course, it’s more complicated than that, as this diagram shows:

Central Dogma Molecular Biology

Here’s a little video that’s useful too:

For instance, messenger RNA (mRNA) doesn’t always start out fully formed. Often it’s made as a longer precursor molecule that is spliced to the final mRNA sequence before being transported out of the nucleus into the cytoplasm to be used to make protein.

In fact, it’s even more complicated than that. Remember how I used the past tense when I said that the central dogma summed up all of molecular biology? It did, but then we started finding exceptions to the central dogma, such as retroviruses and microRNAs that can regulate gene expression, for instance. You don’t really need to know the gory details of many of these, although I will mention a couple of relevant ones and refer you to a post that does go into the gory details, for anyone who’s really interested.

Exceptions aside, RNA vaccines consist mainly of, well, RNA. One problem with RNA vaccines is that RNA is an inherently unstable molecule. It is, after all, a messenger. It doesn’t need to persist any longer than the message needs to be made. In aqueous solution, RNA molecules rapidly degrade. Indeed, the instability of RNA is why public health experts have been concerned about distributing RNA vaccines. Both companies adopted a similar strategy in designing their mRNA to encode the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein with stabilizing mutations added to lock this surface protein into a form easily recognizable to the immune system and therefore make it a better antigen. Pfizer and Moderna also used modified nucleosides (the RNA equivalent to DNA nucleotides) that are more stable to make their RNAs, and placed their RNA within a lipid nanoparticle (LNP) delivery system in which LNPs fuse with the cell membrane to deliver the RNA to the cytoplasm. Nonetheless, there are huge differences in the temperatures at which these vaccines need to be stored to remain stable and active.

Here’s what I mean. The Pfizer vaccine (developed in partnership with a company called BioNTech) reportedly needs to be stored at -80°C. While I have a -80°C freezer in my laboratory (to store RNA samples, among other things), most physicians’ offices and clinics do not, because such freezers are large and very expensive compared to the more common refrigerators (which generally maintain a temperature of around 4°C) and standard freezers (which maintain a temperature of around -20°C). Even many hospitals do not have enough -80°C freezers to store large quantities of vaccine. Similarly, because of the temperature necessary to keep the vaccine stable and active, transporting the Pfizer vaccine presents logistical challenges, because the vaccine must be kept at -80°C or colder during the entire chain of transport. It can be done, using dry ice, of course, but it’s difficult, and one could easily imagine an impending dry ice shortage once such vaccines roll out. To this end, both companies have apparently used modified nucleotides to try to make their mRNA molecules more stable The Moderna vaccine, in contrast, can reportedly be stored at -20°C for up to six months, which is much more doable, as most standard freezers can reach this temperature. Even better, the Moderna vaccine will remain stable at standard refrigerator temperatures of 2° to 8°C (36° to 46°F) for up to 30 days and remains stable at room temperature for up to 12 hours. Why the difference? It’s hard to know for sure, as both companies are tight-lipped about the exact differences in their vaccines. A Moderna spokesperson explained to NPR:

Moderna spokesperson Colleen Hussey explained to NPR in an email that its vaccine doesn’t need to be kept so cold because of its particular “lipid nanoparticle properties and structure,” and because the company has learned from experience — it’s developed ten mRNA vaccine candidates already. “Now we don’t need [ultra-cold conditions] as the quality of product has improved and [it] doesn’t need to be highly frozen to avoid mRNA degradation,” Hussey explained.

In terms of safety and the reported immune response provoked by the two competing vaccines:

On the safety side, while both BNT162b2 and mRNA-1273 were generally well tolerated by participants of phase 3 trials, with most side effects short-lived, the Moderna vaccine was linked to a greater incidence of severe adverse events such as a fatigue and muscle pain after the second shot. Experts speculate that the different dosages (30 micrograms for BNT162b2 versus 100 micrograms for mRNA-1273) could account for the different tolerability profiles.

The Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine might also have a slight edge when it comes to the immune response. In phase 1 trials, with both vaccines, humoral immunity was strong, with virus-neutralizing antibody titers generally surpassing those found in individuals who had recovered from natural infection. As for cellular immunity, both also induced CD4+ T-cell responses skewed toward T-helper type 1 cells. Yet, as reported, only the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine seemed to bring about any sort of cytotoxic CD8+ T cell response. Direct comparisons are difficult, however, as the two vaccine developers used different assays for profiling immune cells.

So basically the two vaccines are very similar in design and differ mainly in their required storage conditions.

Before I move on to explain why antivaxxers’ claims about mRNA vaccines are nothing but fear mongering, it’s useful to answer the question: Given all the challenges described above, why use mRNA vaccines at all? Why not make a more traditional vaccine, in which a protein (or proteins or fragments of key proteins) are made and used as antigens to provoke an immune response? Why go to the trouble of using mRNA vaccines to get the body’s own cells to make antigen? The answer is rather simple. RNA is easier and quicker to produce on a mass scale than more traditional protein-based vaccines. Moreover, compared to DNA vaccines (which could achieve the same thing, getting the body to produce the necessary protein antigen), RNA vaccines have a definite safety advantage over DNA vaccines:

Particularly compared with DNA as a therapeutic or more specifically as a vaccine, mRNA offers strong safety advantages.5 As the minimal genetic construct, it harbors only the elements directly required for expression of the encoded protein. Moreover, while recombination between single-stranded RNA molecules may occur in rare cases,6,7 mRNA does not interact with the genome. Thus, potentially detrimental genomic integration is excluded. Finally, this lack of genomic integration in combination with mRNA being non-replicative as well as metabolically decaying within a few days8 makes mRNA a merely transient carrier of information.

Remember that paragraph as I now move on to deconstruct an antivaccine claim regarding COVID-19 mRNA vaccines. The bottom line is that the mRNA used in RNA vaccines can’t integrate with your DNA, much less “reprogram” it.

Enter Dr. Carrie Madej and the “transhumanism” of COVID-19 vaccines

Although I’ve seen a lot of antivaxxers and COVID-19 deniers/minimizers out there sharing a lot of ridiculous memes falsely claiming that COVID-19 mRNA vaccines will somehow reprogram your DNA, one of the grand masters of this claim is a physician named Dr. Carrie Madej. I first encountered her in October and have been meaning to use her to illustrate how unscientific the claims about mRNA vaccines are, given how viral her videos and articles have gone. In particular, her website is Stop World Control, where you can find her video that went viral.

Here’s what Stop World Control says about Dr. Madej:

Dr Carrie Madej directed two large medical clinics in the state of Georgia, USA. Since her twenties she has been fascinated by vaccines and studied them ever since. Her in depth research led her to discover what the proposed technologies are for the new COVID-19 vaccines. What she is revealing is alarming.

This video is an in depth documentary that shows how these new vaccines can alter our DNA, turning us into hybrids. The plans are to connect humans to artificial intelligence and global control networks. This is the start of transhumanism, turning us into HUMANS 2.0.

“Study.” You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. Seriously, I bet that Dr. Madej “studies” vaccines in the same way that Mike Adams does, her being a physician notwithstanding.

I found out a bit more. Dr. Madej is an internist in McDonough, Georgia. She’s Medical Director of Phoenix Medical Group of Georgia, where she has a full time practice in Internal Medicine. Her Twitter feed is a wretched hive of scum, quackery, and conspiracy theories. Unsurprisingly, she is an antimasker, seems to buy into every major conspiracy theory about COVID-19 out there, and has appeared on The Alex Jones Show, antivaxxer Sherri Tenpenny’s show, and on Mike Adams’ show. She also gave a virtual speech to the gathering of antimaskers and COVID-19 lockdown protesters at Trafalgar Square in September. When I first encountered her last month, I thought it odd that I hadn’t heard of her before.

So what is “transhumanism“? However I describe it, I’m sure someone will object, but here goes anyway. Basically, it is a social, scientific, and philosophical movement devoted to the idea that humans can be enhanced by technology, be it biological, computer-based, or physical. The idea is that such technologies would augment or increase human perception, physical abilities, intelligence, and cognition, and also radically improve human health and extend human life spans. Unsurprisingly, the movement’s adherents tend to be employed in technology, biotech, and academia, and there is a strong link between libertarianism and transhumanism. The ultimate outcome is thought to be the “singularity“, a time when computers become so advanced that artificial intelligence transcends human intelligence, potentially erasing the boundary between humanity and computers, even leading to the merging of humans and computers. Personally, I’ve always looked a bit askance at transhumanism, because there is certainly a lot of woo in the movement. Moreover, transhumanists do tend to assume that the coming “singularity” will necessarily be a good thing. Science fiction, however, provides many potential counterexamples, SkyNet in the Terminator movies and the Borg in Star Trek being two of the most famous of them.

Science fiction dystopian views of transhumanism aside, I am not opposed on general principle to human-enhancing technologies. After all, what is medicine but an effort over many millennia to overcome the inherent biological weaknesses and defects in humans in order to extend lifespans and enhance the quality of life during those lifespans by preventing premature infirmity and death due to aging and external disease? True, there is a philosophical argument to be had over how much modification might be too much, but that’s not what a crank like Dr. Madej is about. Rather, just as antivaxxers have used the COVID-19 pandemic and President Trump’s “Operation Warp Speed” program to stoke fear that any new COVID-19 vaccine will be unsafe, having been rushed to approval too quickly with inadequate safety testing, and thereby to cast doubt on all vaccines, here antivaxxers are painting COVID-19 mRNA vaccines as incipient “transhumanism” in order to—you guessed it!—spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt about all vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, über-quack Dr. Joe Mercola is all on board with this tactic, and it was his article “Will New COVID Vaccine Make You Transhuman?” that first brought my attention to Dr. Madej. Indeed, if you Google “Will COVID-19 vaccine make you transhuman?” you will rapidly find a lot of links reposting all or part of Mercola’s article, plus articles making the same sort of claim. I’m half tempted to respond to the question in the headlines of such articles with Betteridge’s Law of Headlines and just answer with a resounding “No!” but unfortunately more is required. In any case, let’s see Mercola’s take on Madej’s article:

Many of the COVID-19 vaccines currently being fast-tracked are not conventional vaccines. Their design is aimed at manipulating your very biology, and therefore have the potential to alter the biology of the entire human race.

Conventional vaccines train your body to recognize and respond to the proteins of a particular virus by injecting a small amount of the actual viral protein into your body, thereby triggering an immune response and the development of antibodies.

This is not what happens with an mRNA vaccine. The theory behind these vaccines is that when you inject the mRNA into your cells, it will stimulate your cells to manufacture their own viral protein. The mRNA COVID-19 vaccine will be the first of its kind. No mRNA vaccine has ever been licensed before. And, to add insult to injury, they’re forgoing all animal safety testing.

Alter the biology of the entire human race? Surely Dr. Mercola must know the central dogma of molecular biology? (Maybe he doesn’t.) Again, remember that paragraph I quoted before this section. mRNA like that found in the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines simply can’t alter your DNA. As for “reprogramming” human biology, one could argue that all vaccines do that. Some, such as the ones that can produce lifelong immunity to a vaccine-preventable disease, can do it permanently, by permanently altering the immune system to be able to recognize the relevant antigens when it encounters them again. This whole take is silly. Obviously, what Mercola and Madej are trying to scare readers with is the idea that somehow mRNA vaccines permanently alter your DNA, but, again, they can’t do that. They just can’t.

Madej also claims (and Mercola repeats):

The problem with all of this, Madej notes, is that they’re using a process called transfection — a process used to create genetically modified organisms. She points out that research has confirmed GMO foods are not as healthy as conventional unmodified foods. The question is, might we also become less healthy? “Vaccine manufacturers have stated that this will not alter our DNA, our genome,” Madej says.
I say that is not true. Because if we use this process to make a genetically modified organism, why would it not do the same thing to a human? I don’t know why they’re saying that.

If you look at the definition of transfection, it will tell you that it can be a temporary change in the cell. And I think that is what the vaccine manufacturers are banking on.

Or, it’s a possibility for it to become stable, to be taken up into the genome, and to be so stable that it will start replicating when the genome replicates. Meaning it is now a permanent part of your genome. That’s a chance that we’re taking. It could be temporary, or it could be permanent.

Dr. Madej says this is not true. Well whoop-de-doo and la-dee-da! No, seriously. This is not a DNA vaccine. One more time, it is not possible for the RNA to “become stable” and be taken up into the genome. (Indeed, RNA viruses that can integrate into the genome rely on first being reverse transcribed into DNA, which can then be integrated into the genome.) Again, this is Molecular Biology 101. As for transfection, all that is, is a technique to introduce RNA or DNA into cells. That’s it! Most commonly it’s used to introduce plasmids (circular lengths of DNA containing genes of interest) into cells. Methods range from really old school ones that I used in graduate school 30 years ago, such as calcium phosphate precipitation (which is horrendously inefficient and usually only introduces the plasmid into single digit percentages of the cells) to various liposome-based methods, which are much more efficient and get the desired DNA into a larger percentage of the target cells. (These liposomes were similar to the ones being used by Moderna and Pfizer.) While it is true that the introduction of mRNA into a cell will produce a temporary change, namely that the cell’s ribosomes will start using the mRNA to make the desired protein, that temporary change is just that—temporary. It has nothing to do with altering the cell permanently, and as soon as the mRNA degrades naturally the cell will go back to normal. Seriously, Dr. Madej, molecular biologists are laughing at you.

There’s so much more in the video that I could unpack but won’t, in order to keep my focus on mRNA vaccines. I did let a little slip in regarding Dr. Madej’s claim that microneedles and a Hydrogel base will be used to inject the new vaccines; so I might as well briefly explain that she’s almost certainly referring to quantum dot tags, which are copper-based quantum dots embedded in biocompatible, micron-scale capsules. They’re tagged with a near-infrared dye that’s invisible, but the pattern they set can be read and interpreted by a customized smartphone. Contrary to Madej’s and Mercola’s claims, these are not permanent, as the currently estimated time during which they can be read is five years. Moreover, these quantum dot tags are not nearly as nefarious as Madej and Mercola make them sound. For one thing, knowing who’s already received a specific vaccine can protect that person from unnecessarily being advised to receive that vaccine again if there is uncertainty over whether they have ever had it. Also, this technology is a long way from being ready for prime time. It is, however, unsurprising that Madej and Mercola would weave a conspiracy theory about it; this is also likely the origin of the conspiracy theory about COVID-19 vaccines claiming that they will implant a chip, and some of the conspiracy theories about it go right into tinfoil hat territory, with one crank claiming, “This vaccine will not only “mark” you like a cattle, you will be injected with nano particules that will make a you a Perfect antenna for the 5G frequencies wich they will use to track you, make you feel and think anything they want” and Madej saying:

We’re gonna be branded. Each person will have their own ID. This reminds me of World War II. You know, it’s something to think about, being branded like a product in the store…So we’ll be branded. What can that be used for. There are lots of technologies out there, and that’s something we need to be concerned about.

Gee, that reference to World War II and branding wouldn’t be a reference to the Nazis tattooing prisoner identification numbers on the inmates in their concentration camps, would it? More importantly, neither the Moderna nor the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines use microneedles or quantum dot tags.

But back to Madej and Mercola’s other claims about RNA vaccines:

Getting back to the mRNA vaccines, time will tell just how hazardous they end up being. Clearly, if the changes end up being permanent, the chance of long-term side effects is much greater than if they end up being temporary.

In a worst-case scenario, whatever changes occur could even be generational. The problem is these issues won’t be readily apparent any time soon. In my view, this vaccine could easily turn into a global catastrophe the likes of which we’ve never experienced before.

We really should not be quick to dismiss the idea that these vaccines may cause permanent genetic changes, because we now have proof that even conventional vaccines have the ability to do that, and they don’t involve the insertion of synthetic RNA.

I love that first paragraph. It’s the very epitome of “just asking questions” (a.k.a. JAQing off), in which a crank claims just to be asking questions, never mind that the questions are based on pseudoscience, bad science, and claims that science doesn’t support. Moreover, this not-so-dynamic duo seem utterly oblivious to the difference between somatic cells and germ line cells. Alteration of the DNA in somatic cells (every cell in the body except for cells that make eggs in females and sperm in males) are not propagated to the next generation. Alterations of DNA in germline cells can be passed on to the next generation, but there’s no evidence that the mRNA in vaccines like the Moderna or Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines can permanently alter germline DNA – because these vaccines can’t alter any DNA in cells permanently in the way that Madej and Mercola claim.

But what are we to make of Mercola’s claim that “even conventional vaccines can alter DNA”? It’s nonsense, of course. Let’s look at Mercola’s example:

After the H1N1 swine flu of 2009, the ASO3-adjuvanted swine flu vaccine Pandemrix (a fast-tracked vaccine used in Europe but not in the U.S. during 2009-2010) was causally linked9 to childhood narcolepsy, which abruptly skyrocketed in several countries.

Children and teens in Finland, the U.K. and Sweden were among the hardest hit. Further analyses discerned a rise in narcolepsy among adults who received the vaccine as well, although the link wasn’t as obvious as that in children and adolescents.

A 2019 study16 reported finding a “novel association between Pandemrix-associated narcolepsy and the non-coding RNA gene GDNF-AS1″—a gene thought to regulate the production of glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor or GDNF, a protein that plays an important role in neuronal survival.

They also confirmed a strong association between vaccine-induced narcolepsy and a certain haplotype, suggesting “variation in genes related to immunity and neuronal survival may interact to increase the susceptibility to Pandemrix-induced narcolepsy in certain individuals.”

Steve Novella has discussed the issue of whether Pandemrix caused a spike in the incidence of narcolepsy in these countries. It’s important to note that this is a strange case. The association was only observed in specific countries and not in others (including the US) in which the vaccine does not appear to be a consistent or unique risk factor for narcolepsy in these populations. Overall, it was a confusing set of data to derive any clear picture of whether the H1N1 vaccine was a true risk factor. On the other hand, there are data suggesting that Pandemrix might trigger the production of antibodies that can also bind to a receptor in brain cells that help regulate sleepiness in genetically susceptible people. Basically, the whole situation is confusing, and it’s not clear if any of the H1N1 vaccines truly caused narcolepsy.

Also, the study cited by Mercola does not show that the H1N1 vaccine caused permanent genetic changes. The investigators did a genome-wide association study (GWAS), a type of study that frequently finds associations that do not hold up to scrutiny but can nonetheless be useful for hypothesis generation. What this study shows is an association between the haplotype and “vaccine-induced narcolepsy”, not that the H1N1 vaccine produced “permanent genetic changes”. Mercola is either grossly ignorant of basic molecular biology, or he’s lying, knowing that his audience doesn’t know the difference. Take your pick. (I know which option I pick.)

An new spin on an old antivaccine trope

The bottom line is that the fear mongering by Drs. Madej and Mercola is nothing new. The lie that vaccines somehow permanently alter your DNA is not a new one; the rise of mRNA-based vaccines simply makes it easier for antivaxxers to spin a convincing yarn making such false claims. Indeed, I saw the very same claim, namely that vaccines are transhumanism, eight years ago, when Sayer Ji wrote a hilariously silly piece claiming that vaccines are transhumanism in the service of subverting evolution because they interfere with how we have co-evolved with pathogens. (I certainly hope they interfere with our co-evolution with pathogens! That’s rather the point, I’d say!) A few years later, antivaxxer Sherri Tenpenny was making the same sort of nonsensical argument, but by then antivaxxers had started pointing to DNA vaccines as a hopelessly unnatural corruption of our genes. Throughout it all, antivaxxers were also making ridiculous claims about how trace amounts of contaminating DNA from the cell lines used to grow viral antigens for some vaccines can somehow get into the brain, express “non-self” proteins, and trigger an autoimmune response causing autism. Truly, to antivaxxers, DNA and RNA are magic!

When you come right down to it, this new spin on an old antivaccine trope is nothing more than an appeal to “nature” as being somehow always superior to anything humans can do. Indeed, Dr. Madej’s video is nothing new. Months before, a “natural healing consultant” named Dr. Andrew Kaufmann was featured in a video in which he made very similar claims, including that a future COVID-19 vaccine would provide a vessel to “inject genes” into humans, first by a procedure known as “electroporation”, in which an electric current “create[s] little holes in our cells that allow the DNA to go into our own cells” and then through the insertion of “foreign proteins that supposedly generate immunity”. Kaufman even concluded that such an mRNA vaccine, like the results of biotechnology in agriculture, will turn humans into “genetically modified organisms”.

Of course, as I mentioned before, biology is more complex than the central dogma, which was based on an understanding of molecular biology that is now 60 years old. That’s why I, as I enter the conclusion of this post, I will link to an article by Edward Nirenberg, which gets into the weeds of the exceptions to the central dogma as he refutes the nonsensical idea that mRNA vaccines permanently alter your DNA and concludes, quite reasonably:

There is no feasible means by which an mRNA vaccine could end up in the nucleus of a cell, nor prime a reverse transcription reaction, nor give you a mitochondrial disease.

There is no reasonable possibility based on the totality of our knowledge of cell biology, reverse transcriptases, human genetics, and the immune system that mRNA vaccines can affect your DNA.

We should await the detailed safety data, but, a priori, a segment of RNA encoding the spike protein RBD of SARS-CoV-2 with no replicative potential, and no ability to form whole virus, nor even whole ability to form an ENTIRE spike protein, should be expected to be a safe vaccine that isn’t going to cause these insane pie-in-the-sky science fiction scenarios.

If you are worried about the mRNA vaccines, then don’t get them. The data suggest that there will soon be other kinds of vaccines with good efficacy as well. I, however, am content to roll up my sleeves for one of them.

As I likely will be, once they are available.

On a final note, let me just conclude with a thought about the ridiculous claim that mRNA vaccines permanently alter your DNA or somehow make you “transhuman”. You have to remember that antivaxxers view vaccines as somehow “unnatural” to the point of altering what human beings are. They’ve been making that clear ever since I started paying attention to antivaccine pseudoscience two decades ago, and were doing so long before that. Of course, just because something is natural does not make it good, benign, or even just neutral. Nature is harsh, and the battle for survival brutal, and it’s completely “natural” for all manner of animals to be eaten by bigger, faster, and hungrier animals, and it’s just as natural for humans do die horrible deaths from infectious diseases. Indeed, just look at how horrible the deaths suffered by over 260K of my fellow Americans have been, and COVID-19 is entirely “natural”. Yet the mindset behind so much of “alternative” medicine and antivaccine views is that natural is always good and that anything synthetic should be viewed with extreme suspicion. (Come to think of it, that’s why COVID-19 denialists go to such enormous lengths to falsely portray SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the disease, as somehow “unnatural” and bioengineered in a laboratory, with the pandemic being a “plandemic” initiated by global elites to control and subjugate the population.) It’s silly, because even “natural” nutrients and medicines are just as much chemicals as any synthetic nutrient or chemical. We have to judge whether such chemicals are harmful based on science and where the evidence leads us, not based on whether the chemical is “natural” or not. When considering claims about a novel disease such as COVID-19 and vaccines against it, we must also consider the totality of what we know about biology, especially molecular biology, and how a potential vaccine works in assessing the plausibility of alarmist claims about vaccines like those developed by Moderna and Pfizer. Claims that mRNA vaccines like these can “permanently alter your DNA” (or make you “transhuman”) fail miserably on that score.

Think of the claims about mRNA vaccines this way. They are very much of a piece with how quacks glom on to any new finding in molecular biology, particularly the way quacks have hijacked the new science of epigenetics to claim that you can use mind-body interventions to reprogram your own DNA. In quackworld, RNA and DNA are magic, and the disinformation about mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 reflects that belief in magic.


Posted by David Gorski

Dr. Gorski's full information can be found here, along with information for patients. David H. Gorski, MD, PhD, FACS is a surgical oncologist at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute specializing in breast cancer surgery, where he also serves as the American College of Surgeons Committee on Cancer Liaison Physician as well as an Associate Professor of Surgery and member of the faculty of the Graduate Program in Cancer Biology at Wayne State University. If you are a potential patient and found this page through a Google search, please check out Dr. Gorski's biographical information, disclaimers regarding his writings, and notice to patients here.