Will COVID-19 vaccine change human DNA?

Xinhua | Updated: 2020-09-01 14:30
FILE PHOTO: A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a "Vaccine COVID-19" sticker and a medical syringe in this illustration taken on April 10, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

Rumor: A future COVID-19 vaccine will genetically modify people's DNA.


It's scientifically false that a potential vaccine for COVID-19 would change people's DNA and make them "genetically modified," according to scientists and researchers. Such claims, which are widespread on social media, have caused much shock and confusion.

To the public's surprise, some claimed that a future COVID-19 vaccine offers access to "injecting genes" into humans and genetically modify them. Meanwhile, others said the new vaccine will be an mRNA vaccine that will "wrap itself into your system" and alter a person's DNA.

MRNA refers to messenger RNA, which is a single-stranded RNA molecule complementary to one of the DNA strands of a gene. DNA and RNA are the two main types of nucleic acids. DNA provides the code for the cell's activities, while RNA converts that code into proteins to carry out cellular functions, according to publicly available expertise.

The World Health Organization (WHO) clarifies on its website that the working principle of vaccination is to stimulate the immune system "with an infectious agent, or components of an infectious agent, modified in such a manner that no harm or disease is caused, but ensuing that when the host is confronted with that infectious agent, the immune system can adequately neutralize it before it causes any ill effect."

A future RNA vaccine for COVID-19 would instruct cells to produce proteins that are hoped to "trigger an immune response that would then be able to kill the virus," said an article in The Lancet from July 2020.

However, it won't genetically modify a human being because "the mRNA sequence doesn't integrate into the genome, an organism's complete set of DNA," Dr. Gaetan Burgio, a geneticist and infectious researcher at the Australian National University in Canberra, told AAP FactCheck.

Genetic modification requires "the deliberate insertion of foreign DNA into the nucleus of a human cell," Mark Lynas, a visiting fellow at Cornell University's Alliance for Science group, told Reuters, stressing that vaccines cannot do that.

According to the WHO, a DNA vaccine "involves the direct introduction into appropriate tissues of a plasmid containing the DNA sequence encoding the antigen(s) against which an immune response is sought, and relies on the in situ production of the target antigen."

The statement also verifies that DNA vaccines do not incorporate into a person's DNA. Instead they stimulate the immune system to trigger appropriate responses against a disease.

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