mRNA vaccine myths – anti-vax lies about COVID-19 vaccines (UPDATED)

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This mRNA vaccine myths article will be updated frequently as new myths appear. To save you the time of reading the myths you already have, the table of contents will have NEW for new listings or REVISED if a myth debunking has been substantially updated. Please like, comment, and share this article, as I think it will be useful in debunking some of the nonsense that we’re seeing from anti-vaxxers. 

Also, please leave a comment if you come across mRNA vaccine myths that should be added here. And please, let’s not go down the rabbit hole of nanobots in this vaccine – there are no nanobots in this vaccine. Worry about Facebook on your iPhone if you think we’re being tracked.

Unless you have been hiding out in the secret cancer cure vault hidden in Greenland, you know that anti-vaxxers are pushing mRNA vaccine myths as the new vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna get closer and closer to launches in the USA and many other parts of the world.

These myths are more serious this time because we need to get herd immunity from vaccines (not from genocide). If we don’t vaccinate enough people, because too many people remain hesitant because of these mRNA vaccine myths, then we may be wearing masks for years.

I haven’t read all of the lies, tropes, and myths from the anti-vaccine crowd regarding various coronavirus vaccines, especially the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna.

Right now, there are just a handful of these mRNA vaccine myths, but I plan to add to this article as new ones are uncovered. I’m going to do my best to cut off these lies as soon as I can.

mRNA vaccine myths
Someone getting a headache from reading about the mRNA vaccine myths.

What are mRNA vaccines? 

I’ve written this several times with regards to both the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines, but it bears repeating, because a lot of people may come to this article for the first time. 

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.

Normally, during the process called transcription, RNA polymerase makes a copy of a gene from its DNA to mRNA as signaled by the cell. In other words, the mRNA sequences in the cell usually correspond directly to the DNA sequences in our genes. These mRNA sequences “carry” that genetic message to a ribosome 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. 

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 a specific amino acid, except the stop codons, which terminate protein synthesis.

AT this point, note that the mRNA does nothing to the DNA strand in your genes – it merely reads the sequence.

Yes, that’s a lot of cell biology, though I took years of courses in cell biology, so trust me when I say I barely touched the surface. If you want to take a deep dive into the science of mRNA and mRNA vaccines, my friend Edward Nirenberg wrote two articles that will satisfy your desires – they really make it clear how this all works and doesn’t work.

However, here’s a basic video that shows how this works.

Alan McHughen, in his outstanding book, “DNA Demystified: Unraveling the Double Helix,” describes how mRNA works:

When an mRNA strand exits the nucleus and enters the cytoplasm, it attaches to ribosomes, and this is where protein synthesis progresses. The ribosome reads the base sequence of the mRNA, three bases at a time. Each three-base triplet, called a codon, specifies a particular amino acid, except for a few with regulatory functions (e.g., UGA =“Stop!”).

If the first three-base codon is AUG, then a molecule of the amino acid methionine is brought into place. If the next triplet is AAA, that brings in the amino acid lysine. The methionine and lysine molecules are attached together. The next triplet is, say, GCC, and that brings in alanine, which is attached to the lysine. The ribosome has read nine bases, AUGAAAGCC, and compiled a short chain of three amino acids, abbreviated Met-Lys-Ala, or MKA (see amino acid abbreviations here).

The ribosome continues reading all of the mRNA bases until it hits a stop signal—which is also a triplet codon such as UGA—and the now long chain of amino acids falls loose. This chain may be a functional protein immediately, or, more usually, it might undergo some additional post-translational processing by enzymes to become active.

mrna vaccines

Once the mRNA has created a protein, it is then ripped apart by enzymes in the cell, so that the individual RNA nucleotides can go back to being reused in a whole new mRNA sequence. The cellular machinery of translating DNA into proteins is constantly recirculating itself.

The mRNA vaccine technology relies upon a specific mRNA sequence to kickstart the endogenous production of proteins that are structurally equivalent to the viral antigens. The mRNA sequences in the vaccine enter the cell (with a carrier protein), 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.

Someone used this analogy to describe how mRNA works. 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.

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

Will the mRNA vaccine change my DNA?

If you spent one minute reading the above section, you’d know that the answer is no. 

You should have noticed that 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 don’t 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.

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.

One more of the mRNA vaccine myths that have been busted.

Don’t retroviruses change your DNA? 

Yes, there is one way that RNA could change genes, and that’s through an enzyme called reverse transcriptase, which generates complementary DNA (cDNA) from a viral RNA template. However, reverse transcriptase does not exist in humans except in the presence of retroviruses like HIV. In that case, it’s using its own viral RNA template, not just pulling random mRNA out of the cell. It wants the cell to produce a bunch of new retroviruses by hijacking the DNA.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus is not a retrovirus, so this will not be an issue. But even beyond that, the vaccine does not contain reverse transcriptase, so the mRNA chains in the vaccine are not going to do anything to your DNA through this process. 

One “scientist,” Doug Corrigan, is claiming that there are “endogenous retroviruses” that produce reverse transcriptase which will grab those mRNA fragments and force them into our DNA. There is no evidence to support these claims, and he seems to have conflated the fact that there are some viral proteins in our genome with producing reverse transcriptase. It doesn’t work that way.

Although I haven’t read anything about it, I suppose that there might be some concern that these vaccines should be contraindicated for those with HIV and other retrovirus infections, but S-protein mRNA would not be the biggest concern to individuals with these infections.

mRNA vaccine myths

Will the mRNA vaccine harm the fetus during pregnancy?

Absolutely not, for the reasons discussed above. This particular mRNA vaccine myth betrays the anti-vaxxer knowledge of biology, physiology, cell biology, and everything else.

The cell biology of the fetus is not dissimilar to the ones in fully grown adults – the mRNA fragment is probably not going to cross the blood-placenta barrier. If it does, it’s still not going to enter the nucleus of the cell and change the fetal DNA. The mRNA functions exactly the same in the fetus and adult.

Will the mRNA vaccine give me COVID-19?

Again, no, this is another mRNA vaccine myth without merit or evidence.

The mRNA fragment causes just one part of the virus to be produced and secreted from your cells – the S-protein. That protein induces an immune response, but it is a tiny part of the virus. It cannot reproduce. It cannot cause any known illness. It cannot be spread through the air. The S-protein is useless without the rest of the virus, except to induce an immune response. That’s it.

There is no plausible way that these mRNA vaccines could cause COVID-19 unless there was some massive contamination of the vaccine by someone sneezing in the manufacturing facility (which would never happen, so please do use this as an “ah-ha” moment). 

Another one of those mRNA vaccine myths is busted.

mRNA vaccine myths
Pregnant women are safe to get the vaccine, despite the mRNA vaccine myths.

Are the myths about mRNA vaccines shedding true?

There are no live, attenuated, or dead viruses in this vaccine. All it does is to induce your cells to produce the S-protein which does not reproduce, and it is not pathogenic.

As I wrote above, you cannot contract COVID-19 from this vaccine. And because of that, you cannot shed anything from these mRNA vaccines, another one of the numerous myths about these vaccines.

Will the mRNA vaccines cause infertility?

This is a strange one with an unknown origin story. Basically, the claim is that there is a protein subunit on the S-protein that is “homologous” to the syncytin-1 protein that facilitates the development of the placenta. Hypothetically, if the syncytin-1 and SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins were similar or exactly alike, there could be some cross-reactivity of antibodies between the S-protein and the syncytin-1 protein.

This is one of those types of myths that has a tiny plausibility in biology, but in reality, it has zero meaning. 

Syncytin-1 is an endogenous retroviral element that is the remnant of a 25 million year ago retroviral infection integrated into old-world primates, including humans. In other words, it was incorporated into our genome as a result of retrovirus infection. As I wrote above, retroviruses can change our DNA. 

In case you don’t know, the evolution of all organisms includes the incorporation of viral DNA into our genome. Occasionally, these viral genes confer some increased fitness, as in the case of syncytin-1 it becomes a part of placental development. About 8% of the human DNA comes from viruses during our long evolutionary past.

This is where it gets somewhat complicated. Even though coronaviruses are not retroviruses, viruses frequently share similar peptides (which are much smaller than proteins, only containing between 2 and 50 amino acids). There is one small peptide within the syncytin-1 protein that is homologous to one small peptide in the S-protein

This peptide is called “CP-1”, and it contains about 3 amino acids. Syncytin-1 has 538 amino acids. The S-protein contains 510 amino acids. In other words, the CP-1 peptide is a tiny part of the structure of each of those proteins.

The immune system generally doesn’t recognize small peptides as antigens, because they are so small and because they are so similar to other peptides. An example of this is insulin – it is a small peptide that is found in almost all animals from crabs to humans. Before we made human insulin, we treated type 1 diabetes with porcine and bovine insulin, and the immune system just thought it was human insulin, despite the differences in the peptides.

But there are three critical points that should be emphasized:

  1. There is simply no published evidence (as far as I could find) that there is some immune cross-reactivity between the S-protein and syncytin-1. Not only is there no evidence, but it’s also not plausible that one small 3-peptide part of those two proteins would induce some sort of cross-reactivity.
  2. Women have contracted COVID-19, and there aren’t any reports of sudden infertility risks. Remember, the S-protein that is being produced by the mRNA vaccines is the same S-protein in the SARS-CoV-2 virus. If this hypothesis being pushed by anti-vaxxers were true, then it would also be true with “natural” infection.
  3. If I’m totally wrong, and there is some weird cross-reactivity between 3 amino acid peptides, then there’s more reason to get the vaccine to prevent an infection.

My friend Edward Nirenberg, who makes my scientific geekiness seem lame, also busted this ridiculous myth with some intense science. So between Dr. Nirenberg and I, can we take this particular myth and throw it into the wastebin of anti-vax tropes?

Dr. Nirenberg wrote:

Someone has claimed that the COVID-19 vaccines are going to cause infertility because of a shared amino acid sequence in the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 and a placental protein, which will make the immune system attack both as it can’t tell the difference.

The truth? This sequence is too short for the immune system to meaningfully confuse it with placental proteins. It’s sort of like saying that you are going to be confused with a criminal because you wear a commonly sold red bracelet that was also found on the criminal. It’s not realistic. If this were true, we would also expect COVID-19 to cause early pregnancy loss a significant amount of the time. The evidence available to us does not support that this is the case.

There is no reasonable basis to believe that vaccines against COVID-19/SARS-CoV-2 will affect fertility.

But there’s more. If you just look at any random protein and compare it to the S-protein, guess what you’re going to find? Yes, out of hundreds of amino acids in any protein sequence, there is usually a sequence of maybe 3-4 amino acids that will match. 

Development was too fast

If you read my articles since March about the development of this vaccine, I was very troubled about the speed of development. Most vaccines take 5-10 years to develop, mostly because clinical trials take too long.

But what happened here with the mRNA vaccines (and future COVID-19 vaccines) is that the best scientists in the world used technology that was already established to get to the point where we are.

Moderna, for example, has seven mRNA vaccines for a variety of diseases under development for over 10 years. Many of these vaccines are in late phase 1 or phase 2, so Moderna itself has extensive experience with the mRNA vaccine that gave them an advantage in development.

However, the research on mRNA vaccine technology goes back to 1990, when scientists determined that they could use mRNA messages to induce mouse cells to produce. The mRNA vaccine technology has been developing extremely rapidly over the past 20 years. And there is a large body of preclinical data that has accumulated over the past several years, and multiple human clinical trials have been initiated. 

It is simply one of the many myths about the mRNA vaccines that want you to believe that they were rapidly developed in a matter of a few months. This vaccine technology has been around for a long time. 

Because of our ability to sequence the DNA of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, we were able to determine which sequences produced the S-protein and quickly get the mRNA sequence. This is what sped up the development of the vaccine, not cutting corners. The technology was there and the vaccine was almost “easy” to produce.

Although it will take time to understand the effectiveness of mRNA vaccines, the safety of these vaccines has not been circumvented by the speed of getting the mRNA vaccines to us.

Pfizer executive pans the vaccine

In early December 2020, numerous memes and scary social media posts stated the “head of Pfizer research” had warned that Pfizer’s new COVID-19 mRNA vaccine would cause sterilization in women. We discussed this previously in detail, but this deserves its own little section.

The claim is from Michael Yeadon, a former employee of Pfizer, and NOT its head of research. His title at Pfizer was vice president and chief scientist for allergy and respiratory. This does not mean he knows anything about vaccines, about mRNA vaccines specifically, or about Pfizer’s vaccine development process.

According to Snopes

Yeadon and German physician Wolfgang Wodarg sent a letter to the European Medicines Agency, calling on EMA to halt clinical trials of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in the European Union. In the letter, Wodarg and Yeadon stated that the Pfizer vaccine blocks a protein that is key in the formation of the placenta in mammals, and they claimed that it’s possible women who receive the vaccine could become infertile. However, they did not state as fact that the vaccine causes sterility, as the Health and Money News headline suggests.

David Gorski, in a post on Science-Based Medicine, ripped this letter into tiny little shreds like a CIA-quality shredder. He also stated that “Yeadon is a COVID-19 denialist and conspiracy theorist.” Yeadon supported the Great Barring Declaration, which just wanted people to die to get herd immunity to COVID-19. 

Yeadon may have been a good scientist at Pfizer, though it’s hard to tell. Who knows why he’s no longer there. But he’s gone off the deep-end of anti-vax disinformation, COVID-19 denialism, and full-on conspiracy theories. He lacks credibility in vaccines, and he’s pushing a completely debunked false narrative about fertility and the mRNA vaccines. 

Yeadon is a crank that should be ignored. Period.

Ingredients

Bill Gates has not placed microchips, nanobots, or tracking devices in any of the COVID-19 vaccines. He sells mobile phones, laptops, and tablets to do that. 

Let’s try a little science experiment. Take your very expensive radio transmitter, your iPhone, in a baggie, seal it, and then put it in your bathtub. Then try calling it.

The signals will not get through to the iPhone. Why? Because the radio signals, especially at the frequency of mobile phones, cannot penetrate the water to get to your phone.

If the powerful transmitter can’t reach your iPhone in the water, then any chip inside you will also not be able to connect. You’re 60% water, so you’re essentially one giant block to any signals from these imaginary nanobots. 

Oh, one more thing. Trying to transmit at an energy level that might penetrate your body’s bag of water would generate so much heat that they would boil you to death, kind of defeating the purpose of tracking devices.

But let’s get back to the real world. The ingredients in the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines are fairly basic – the actual mRNA, fatty acids to protect the mRNA and allow it to enter the body, buffers to keep the vaccine stable, and water.

There is no mercury, aluminum, eggs, insect parts, the kitchen sink, nanobots, or Bill Gates’ DNA in these vaccines.

Bell’s palsy

The FDA has issued a “staff report” that recommends monitoring people who receive those vaccines be monitored for Bell’s palsy, a type of facial paralysis. This arose because there have been a handful of cases of the condition reported during the clinical trials for both the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines.

However, I reviewed the issue thoroughly, and there are a few facts that should be considered before proclaiming the dangers of Bell’s palsy:

  1. The incidence of the condition is much higher in the general population than was observed in the clinical trial.
  2. Bell’s palsy usually results from infections, like the cold or flu, so it may have just been coincidental.
  3. The number of cases in the clinical trial was so small that it would be impossible to statistically determine either correlation or causation

Although the FDA was prudent in making sure that clinicians are aware of the possibility, there is not much evidence that Bell’s palsy is actually linked to the COVID-19 vaccines, so this is another one of the mRNA vaccine myths that is busted. 

No unprotected sex after getting the vaccine (NEW)

This myth arises from the clinical trial protocols for the Pfizer mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, which states that unprotected sex by men or women should be avoided for 28 days after vaccination. Of course, the anti-vaxxers decided this was a thing, so they jumped on it immediately claiming that the vaccine causes some sort of harm to fertility or the fetus, so don’t get the vaccine. 

Because anti-vaxxers are clueless about how science is done, they don’t realize that nearly every single clinical trial for any drug or vaccine includes such warnings. Why? Because researchers don’t want to have a lot of confounding data, and because the standards for clinical trials state that during these trials, people shouldn’t have unprotected sex until such time that it is determined that it is safe to use.

We have zero evidence or biological plausibility that the Pfizer (or Moderna) mRNA COVID-19 vaccine has these issues. Another one of the anti-vaccine myths busted. 

Nurse Tiffany Dover died after getting the vaccine (NEW)

Tiffany Dover did faint (syncope) after receiving the vaccine, but that is a frequent issue with people who see or feel needles. It is a fake reaction to vaccines, but it’s an actual reaction to needles. 

And Ms. Dover is alive and well, another one of the mRNA vaccine myths busted by Professor Dorit Rubinstein Reiss. Unfortunately, Ms. Dover and her family have been harassed by the anti-vaccine mob across the internet. 

mRNA vaccine myths
Typing about mRNA vaccine myths. Yeah, I love old typewriters.

Summary of mRNA vaccine myths

It’s a myth that the mRNA vaccine causes changes in our DNA.

It’s a myth that the mRNA vaccine changes the DNA of fetuses.

It’s a myth that the mRNA vaccine causes COVID-19.

It’s a myth that the mRNA vaccine causes infertility in women.

Yes, retroviruses can change your DNA, but no, SARS-CoV-2 is not a retrovirus.

It’s a myth that the mRNA vaccine was developed too fast.

It’s a myth that the mRNA vaccines contain nanobots, tracking devices, or Bill Gates.

It’s a myth that the mRNA vaccines cause Bell’s palsy (although we need to keep track of that). 

It’s a myth that you should not have unprotected sex after receiving the vaccine (though try not to have unprotected sex).

It’s a myth that the nurse, Tiffany Dover, died after receiving the vaccine.

I’m sure new mRNA vaccine myths will start appearing on the internet any day now. But the old feathered dinosaur is here to watch for them and debunk them as fast as I can. 

Citations



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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!