What our experts say
COVID-19 vaccines are not considered a form of gene therapy and do not alter human DNA.
According to the United States National Institutes of Health (U.S. NIH), gene therapy is "...[A]n experimental technique that uses genes to treat or prevent disease. In the future, this technique may allow doctors to treat a disorder by inserting a gene into a patient’s cells instead of using drugs or surgery."
The U.S. NIH noted that some of the different strategies being researched in gene therapy include: - "Replacing a mutated gene that causes disease with a healthy copy of the gene. - Inactivating, or “knocking out,” a mutated gene that is functioning improperly. - Introducing a new gene into the body to help fight a disease."
COVID-19 mRNA - short for 'messenger RNA' - vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna do not meet this criteria as they do not have any genes or genetic materials that can alter human DNA in any way.
mRNA vaccines are not considered experimental in the field of genetics but they do work by teaching our cells to create the spike protein found on the surface of the virus but in a harmless way. The vaccines then use this information to create a blueprint for how to fight COVID-19 by recognizing the virus' spike protein when a vaccinated person is exposed to it in their daily life.
mRNA vaccines cannot enter human DNA strains or impact the human genome because it impacts the cytoplasm of human cells, not the nucleus. Once the mRNA is changed into a protein, it dissolves quickly and cannot be converted into DNA.
COVID-19 mRNA vaccines have been given to billions of people around the world and have been deemed as both effective and safe by the World Health Organization and hundreds of international health agencies around the world.
Context and background
Claims have been circulating recently about vaccines serving as gene therapy on various social media outlets. Though these claims have no scientific basis, they have continued to be spread due to a lack of understanding about the genetic components of the mRNA vaccines.
Used with Permission from Health Desk, a public health hub that explains emerging COVID-19 science.