COVID-19 mRNA vaccines “hack the software of life” – anti-vaxxers new myth

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In case you weren’t watching, anti-vaxxers are now proclaiming that COVID-19 mRNA vaccines “hack the software of life.” This results from the early hype about the Moderna vaccine when a Moderna executive proclaimed that their vaccines will “hack the software of life.”

Despite my having received the Moderna vaccine, I have found their hype machine to be quite annoying in the past. Worse, they decided to file documents proclaiming that the FDA will regulate their vaccine as “gene therapy.” Thank you, Moderna for making my life difficult in refuting nonsense about these COVID-19 mRNA vaccines and hacking the software of life.

Many of us have spent a considerable amount of time debunking the myth that the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine, from either Moderna or Pfizer, is gene therapy and does not hack the software of life. Whoever thought this was a good idea at the Moderna hype machine factory ought to find a new job.

So, once again, this article will debunk the myth about the Moderna COVID-19 mRNA vaccine having anything to do with “hacking the software of life.”

mRNA vaccines do not change the DNA

If you spent just a few minutes on the mechanism of either of the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines, it is clear how the mRNA fragment is handled by every cell, the answer is an absolute no.

Again, the mRNA molecule merely reads the DNA information and carries it to the ribosome. It does not change the DNA message in any way, it’s not how the whole process of translation works.

Furthermore, the mRNA from the mRNA vaccines does not interact with your DNA in any way. They cause the ribosome to produce the S-protein antigen, and that’s it. Once molecules of S-protein are produced within the ribosome from that strand of mRNA from the vaccine, that vaccine mRNA strand is broken down into individual nucleotides to be reused by the cell.

And in case you were wondering, RNA nucleotides are the same whether they’re manufactured “naturally” by your cells or in a vaccine. They are molecularly exactly alike, so they will be reused to make some new mRNA molecules for any of the millions of proteins in your body.

Pfizer Moderna COVID-19 vaccines
Repeating this over and over, so everyone gets it.

If mRNA could functionally change the DNA, it would open up a whole world of genetic medicine. We could fix all kinds of genetic diseases with this mechanism.

But that’s not how mRNA works, so we can’t.

There are actually other reasons why these mRNA vaccines are not going to affect your DNA:

  1. Your cells’ genome (DNA) is contained within the nucleus of the cell, which is surrounded by a double-membrane. It allows for large molecules, such as mRNA which has read the DNA, to leave the nucleus, but blocks large molecules from entering it. So the S-protein mRNA from the vaccine will not enter the nucleus until it is broken down into individual nucleotides, at which point, they are exactly the same as all of the other nucleotides.
  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.

So, are we clear now? There is simply no way that the Moderna COVID-19 mRNA vaccine hacks the software of life.

But of course, despite my proclamation, the anti-vaccine crowd can’t stop using it.

COVID-19 mRNA vaccines “hack the software of life”

But on the list of self-inflicted wounds, we need to see how Moderna is making this difficult. Well before COVID-19 mRNA vaccines were the subject of daily conversations or considered the software of life, way back in 2017, Dr. Tal Zaks, then chief medical officer, gave this talk:

In case you don’t like to watch videos, here’s all you need to know:

We’ve been living this phenomenal digital scientific revolution, and I’m here today to tell you that we are actually hacking the software of life, and that it’s changing the way we think about prevention and treatment of disease.

In every cell there’s this thing called messenger RNA or mRNA for short, that transmits the critical information from the DNA in our genes to the protein, which is really the stuff we’re all made out of. This is the critical information that determines what the cell will actually do. So, we think of it as an operating system …

So, if you could change that … if you could introduce a line of code, or change a line of code, it turns out that has profound implications for everything, from the flu to cancer …

Imagine if instead of giving [the patient] the protein of a virus, we gave them the instructions on how to make the protein, how the body can make its own vaccine.

I guess they were looking for investors who get a bigger thrill out of software analogies than good science, because, based on what he’s saying, you’d think that the Moderna vaccines are magic. They’re not.

But that doesn’t stop these guys. Moderna’s mission statement is:

Recognizing the broad potential of mRNA science, we set out to create an mRNA technology platform that functions very much like an operating system on a computer. It is designed so that it can plug and play interchangeably with different programs. In our case, the “program” or “app” is our mRNA drug – the unique mRNA sequence that codes for a protein.

And it continues with Moderna’s statement in a 2020 SEC filing, which you know that every anti-vaxxer is using to “prove” the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines are messing with your genes:

Currently, mRNA is considered a gene therapy product by the FDA. Unlike certain gene therapies that irreversibly alter cell DNA and could act as a source of side effects, mRNA-based medicines are designed to not irreversibly change cell DNA; however, side effects observed in gene therapy could negatively impact the perception of mRNA medicines despite the differences in mechanism.

Now, I’ve debunked this before, but let’s do it once again. First of all, Dr. David Gorski, in an article posted on Science-Based Medicine, tried to find if the FDA actually considered this. And Dr. Gorski states:

To be honest, I found that passage by Moderna to be a head-scratcher, because nowhere could I find evidence that the FDA considered mRNA products to be a “gene therapy product”, and even sources that discuss RNA-based products along with gene therapy tend to separate the two based on mechanism.

On the other hand, I noted the care with which Moderna stated that mRNA vaccines might be considered a “gene therapy product,” not “gene therapy”. Here’s what I mean. What does “gene therapy” of any sort make? mRNA, that’s what, and that mRNA is then translated into protein. Thus, mRNA is the product of gene therapy, not the gene therapy itself, because mRNA doesn’t actually alter genes and DNA. (More on that later.)

Gene therapy is precisely defined by the FDA, COVID-19 mRNA vaccines are most certainly not gene therapy. Here is the FDA’s definition of gene therapy:

Human gene therapy seeks to modify or manipulate the expression of a gene or to alter the biological properties of living cells for therapeutic use.

The FDA goes on to get into the weeds about what gene therapy is, by outlining what constitutes gene therapy from a scientific perspective.

Gene therapy is a technique that modifies a person’s genes to treat or cure disease. Gene therapies can work by several mechanisms:

• Replacing a disease-causing gene with a healthy copy of the gene

• Inactivating a disease-causing gene that is not functioning properly

•Introducing a new or modified gene into the body to help treat a disease

•Gene therapy products are being studied to treat diseases including cancer, genetic diseases, and infectious diseases.

They also define what are gene therapy products:

Plasmid DNA: Circular DNA molecules can be genetically engineered to carry therapeutic genes into human cells.

Viral vectors: Viruses have a natural ability to deliver genetic material into cells, and therefore some gene therapy products are derived from viruses. Once viruses have been modified to remove their ability to cause infectious disease, these modified viruses can be used as vectors (vehicles) to carry therapeutic genes into human cells.

Bacterial vectors: Bacteria can be modified to prevent them from causing infectious disease and then used as vectors (vehicles) to carry therapeutic genes into human tissues.

Human gene editing technology: The goals of gene editing are to disrupt harmful genes or to repair mutated genes.

Patient-derived cellular gene therapy products: Cells are removed from the patient, genetically modified (often using a viral vector) and then returned to the patient.

No vaccines there.

moderna COVID-19 mRNA vaccines
Not COVID-19 mRNA vaccines hacking biological software Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash

Summary

Despite the protestations of your local anti-vaxxer, we once again find nothing that supports their nonsense.

The COVID-19 mRNA vaccines:

  • Do not alter your DNA
  • Do not hack the software of life (whatever that is)
  • Are not gene therapy

Moderna has got to stop this marketing hype that is best left to online marketers of homeopathic potions. They are pulling garbage out of thin air to either hype their stock or to hype their products.

Because Moderna is a young company, they haven’t had to deal with the idiocy of the anti-vaccine movement. They have never had to deal with a group that lies, lies, and lies. They didn’t know that their overhyped rhetoric will become the target of anti-vaxxers. I wish they understood this.

Moderna is one of the heroes in the war against COVID-19. Two years ago, I had never heard of Moderna, but today, everyone knows their name. They need to retract this nonsense about hacking our software and gene therapy. The COVID-19 mRNA vaccines are neither.

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!