Andrew Wakefield is back and thinks COVID-19 mRNA vaccines change DNA

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The cunning fraud  MrAndrew Wakefield is back again pushing a new brand of anti-vaccine gibberish combined with a huge dollop of COVID-19 denialism. Of course, he would jump into the fray pushing debunked and discredited tropes about COVID-19 mRNA vaccines, because he has had nothing factual to say about any vaccine for twenty years. It would be delusional to believe that he would suddenly see the light about these new vaccines.

Of course, the anti-vaccine religion considers Andrew Wakefield one of their high priests, along with Del Bigtree and Robert F Kennedy Jr, all of whom appear to have the power of papal infallibility – whatever they claim is considered dogma, irrespective of science. Of course, Andrew Wakefield’s initial paper about vaccines and autism was retracted, and the overwhelming science debunks this claim.

Wakefield has become so discredited as a “scientist” that he has resorted to “publishing” his most recent gibberish, vaccines are causing the sixth mass extinction, in the discredited Journal of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), which is not indexed in PubMed. The AAPS is a far-right medical association that rejects most science about climate change, vaccines, HIV, and many other issues. In case you’re wondering, their leader, Dr. Jane Orient, is a COVID-19 denier. 

So, what has Mr. Wakefield said now? He’s repeating the debunked myth that the mRNA in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will change your DNA. No, they won’t. Here I go again, disputing more garbage spewed by Andrew Wakefield.

Andrew Wakefield

Andrew Wakefield flunked biology

In an article posted on that anti-vaccine website, Age of Lying about Autism, I mean Age of Autism, they shared a video from Andrew Wakefield. Thankfully, the link to that video has disappeared, and I don’t have to watch it.

Fortunately, the irascible Orac wasted a few neurons watching it and posted a review. Please go read the whole review, but I’ll quote Orac who is quoting Wakefield:

So, by definition, an RNA vaccine isn’t a vaccine at all because it doesn’t elicit an immune response. It has to be turned into protein, and it’s the protein in turn that creates the immune response. A messenger RNA vaccine is actually genetic engineering. That’s what it is. It’s putting genetic material from an RNA virus into your cells and asking your cellular machinery with the RNA to produce protein from your cells, to which you then mount an immune response.

Wait, what? Genetic engineering? 

We all know why he uses the words “genetic engineering,” because, among many people, that’s considered a dangerous technology. Back before this pandemic caused me to change my writing focus, I used to debunk myths about genetically-modified foods, because the pseudoscience in that world overlaps the anti-vaccine world in many ways.

There is a ridiculous fear that the genes in GMO foods will somehow harm your own genes for totally unscientific reasons. I mean if genes of our foods would change us, I should be a giant ear of corn given the amount of popcorn I’ve consumed over my life. 

Wakefield’s dog whistle of “genetic engineering” will just give more ammunition to the devoted anti-vaccine mob, but it could cause your average on-the-fence parent to worry that the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines could cause permanent harm. This is typical Andrew Wakefield behavior – use a little bit of science to fire up fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

I’m going to attack that “genetic engineering” nonsense in a moment, but Orac quoted something else from Wakefield that made me spit up my very expensive coffee:

What could possibly go wrong? You have cells in your own body that are producing protein to which your immune system is going to mount an immune response. That’s called an autoimmune disease.

Wait, what again? That is not an autoimmune disease. Let’s let Orac respond:

No, no, no, no, no! No, it’s not! The COVID-19 spike protein is not a human protein. Autoimmune disease involves an aberrant immune response against one of the body’s own proteins. The COVID-19 vaccine is inducing your cells to make a foreign protein to facilitate an immune response. By this rationale, all viral diseases are autoimmune diseases, because all viral diseases induce cells to make a foreign protein that elicits an immune response!

I am so thankful that Orac watched this video because I might have broken my iPad in half. 

OK, back to DNA.

mRNA vaccines will harm your DNA!!! Nope, more anti-vaxxer nonsense

mRNA does not change DNA, period

To become a physician, it takes years of biology courses. It’s been a long time since I sat in a freshman biology course, but I swear one learns about mRNA and DNA in the first few days. And I used to teach freshman biology, so let me teach you all you ned to know about mRNA and DNA – unless you want to be a physician, then you better have learned a lot more than what I’m telling you here.

As most of us know by now, the Pfizer and Moderna Therapeutics COVID-19 vaccines are mRNA vaccines that rely upon an mRNA, or messenger RNA, molecule to induce an immune response. However, it does not do this directly.

I’m going to use the graphic above to guide us through the process of how mRNA works in cells. I’ll do this in a step-by-step process so that we can all be on the same page. 

  1. During the process called transcription, RNA polymerase makes a copy of a gene from the DNA on the chrome– this copy is the mRNA. The transcription process starts when the cell signals that it needs to begin producing a protein that the body needs, say insulin or one of the thousands of enzymes or whatever is needed.
  2. As in DNA, genetic information in mRNA is contained in the sequence of nucleotides, which are arranged into codons consisting of three ribonucleotides each. Each codon codes for one specific amino acid, except the stop codons, which terminate protein synthesis.
  3. The mRNA sequences are a “mirror-image” of the DNA sequences which hold the data on how to produce a protein. 
  4. These mRNA sequences “carry” that genetic message to a ribosome, an organelle in the cell, for translation, where tRNA triplets, which code for one amino acid, attach to the appropriate mRNA triplet, adding one amino acid to the protein chain. 
  5. A few viruses, like HIV, have an enzyme called “reverse transcriptase” that can cause mRNA to make changes in the DNA, but its real goal is to make a copy of itself. There is also an enzyme called telomerase in humans to add a very specific bit of code to chromosomes, but it does not use mRNA floating around, it uses RNA that it carries within itself. Neither of these could take mRNA from vaccines and change our DNA.

Here’s a video (I don’t usually think much of YouTube for science, but this works for me) that shows how translation and transcription works:

I want to be clear at this point – the mRNA does nothing to the DNA strand in your genes – it merely mirrors the DNA sequence. 

In case you still want to believe that the mRNA in these vaccines can magically change your DNA, there are other reasons that it can’t.

  1. Your cell’s genome (DNA) is contained within the nucleus of the cell, which is surrounded by a double-membrane. This membrane allows large molecules, such as mRNA which has just read the DNA, to leave the nucleus, but it blocks large molecules from entering the nucleus. 
  2. Even if the mRNA molecule could affect the DNA and even if it could get into the nucleus, there are all kinds of error correction machinery in our DNA to keep out random bits of code. With trillions of cells in each human, each containing billions of DNA base pairs, there are naturally a lot of errors that could kill a human if the quality control machinery of the DNA didn’t keep close watch over errors.
  3. Similarly, this mRNA cannot get into the mitochondria (which have their own DNA) and cause damage to its DNA. Even though the mitochondrion lacks a cell nucleus, it does have its own ribosomes and genes, and they would react to the S-protein mRNA in the same ways as the cell – it would not change its DNA.

Once the mRNA has created a protein, it is then broken down by enzymes in the cell into individual nucleotides, which then move into the nucleus to be reused in a new mRNA strand. The cellular machinery of translating DNA into proteins is constantly recirculating itself. 

The Pfizer and Modern mRNA strands only undergo the transcription process to produce spike proteins, that’s it. It can’t get into the cell, and mRNA just does not change the DNA.

The mRNA sequences in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines enter the cell (in a complex manner that is just more cell biology than I think you’d want to read), and heads to the ribosomes to create the SARS-CoV-2 antigens. These antigens will depart the cell and will trigger the body’s adaptive immune system to produce antibodies effective against the actual target, in this case, the S-protein or spike on the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

One more thing – the antigens produced by these mRNA sequences are biologically inert. They will induce an immune response, but they will not cause any other biological effect including becoming pathogenic.

So, let’s summarize. The mRNA vaccines make use of the cell’s ribosome to create the S-protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. That antigen induces an adaptive immune system response that will “remember” that antigen allowing the immune system to quickly attack the virus if it shows up.

Summary

The science of mRNA is studied in Biology 101, a freshman-level course that every pre-med student would take and understand before going to medical school. Every single physician would know this, and every physician even defrocked ones like Andrew Wakefield. To state otherwise is either an indication of advanced dementia or intentional misinformation (lies). 

Translation and transcription of the genetic code by mRNA is the foundation of biology. I cannot describe anything about cells, physiology, and medicine without understanding how the genetic code holds all of the data that creates all living organisms.

And throw in Andrew Wakefield’s ridiculous assertion of auto-immune diseases, I’m wondering if he paid attention to anything in his education. Orac is not an allergist or immunologist, but somehow in his education, he learned the mechanics of auto-immune diseases. And mRNA vaccines have nothing to do with that.

These mRNA vaccines do not cause changes in DNA, that is a scientific fact. So, let me put this in a way that maybe Wakefield will understand:

Let’s say you have a book that represents the genetic code (lots of people describe our genetic code as the official manual of our individual person). You then scan that book in a copy machine, and now you have a bunch of papers that are an image of the original book. The copy does not change the original book. It can’t.

To expand  this book metaphor, other authors aren’t allowed to even look at the book until excerpts are sent out and the cells’ editors will catch any spelling errors immediately anyway. And the mitochondria is a reclusive author shut up in his house.

If you want to read more about Andrew Wakefield, pick up Brian Deer’s new book detailing the fraud. 



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The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!