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Experts: mRNA vaccine for COVID-19 does not alter DNA

September 4, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: The new vaccine for COVID-19 will be the first of its kind ever. It will be an “MRna vaccine” which will literally alter your DNA. It will wrap itself into your system. You will essentially become a genetically modified human being. 

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Experts say mRNA vaccines do not alter your DNA. 

THE FACTS: As researchers work to test vaccines to stop the spread of COVID-19, social media posts are spreading misinformation to sow doubt even before they become available to the public. 

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The posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram suggest that a new coronavirus mRna vaccine will genetically modify humans. While the vaccine will be the first of its kind, it would not cannot alter DNA. 

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccine candidates that began Phase 3 testing in July both use mRNA. MRNA vaccines are a new and unproven technology that experts say offer an easier and faster way to produce vaccines compared to traditional vaccines.

MRNA vaccines work by introducing a messenger RNA molecule into your body, which causes cells to produce a protein that resembles one of the viral proteins that make up SARS-CoV-2, said Brent R. Stockwell, a Columbia University biology and chemistry professor.  

“Your immune cells then recognize this viral protein and generate an immune response against it, primarily by generating antibodies that recognize the viral protein,” he said in an email. 

While there are other concerns with mRNA vaccines, such as the degree and length of protection and possible side effects, Stockwell said, modifying DNA is not one of them. 

Dr. Dan Culver, a pulmonologist at Cleveland Clinic, agreed it’s not possible for an mRNA vaccine to alter your DNA

“This cannot change your genetic makeup,” he said. “The time that this RNA survives in the cells is relatively brief in the span of hours. What you are really doing is sticking a recipe card into the cell making protein for a few hours.”

There are dozens of vaccines undergoing testing aside from the mRNA vaccines. Britain’s Oxford University and AstraZeneca are making a “viral vector” vaccine which will rely on a cold virus commonly found in chimpanzees to carry the spike protein’s genetic material to the body. AstraZeneca announced Monday that its vaccine candidate has reached the final stage and the company will now conduct a study on 30,000 adults.

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536