COVID-19 RNA vaccines are safe, cannot modify human DNA; death rate in vaccinated people isn’t higher than in unvaccinated people

CLAIM
“The protein then can bind to your DNA and irreversibly change it”; “[It] has several different type of lipids on it that have never been injected into human beings before”; “We could be looking at right now as many as 12,000 deaths”
DETAILS
Factually inaccurate: mRNA vaccines are designed to prompt our cells to produce a protein. They do not change your DNA.
Lacks context: Clinical trials in people showed that the COVID-19 RNA vaccines are safe. Any toxicity or common side effects are closely monitored and assessed as part of the approval process.
Misrepresents source: Deaths reported as adverse events following vaccination do not imply that the vaccine was a contributing factor. Medical reviews have not found evidence for COVID-19 vaccines contributing to any deaths.
KEY TAKE AWAY
The COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. were tested in thousands of people during clinical trials and were shown to be safe. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines are designed to prompt our cells to produce the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and cannot change your DNA. There are rare cases of anaphylactic reactions to the vaccines, which would be expected in any widely distributed vaccine. There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines have contributed to any deaths.

FULL CLAIM: “The protein then can bind to your DNA and irreversibly change it”; “They put it in a lipid coating that has several different type of lipids on it that have never been injected into human beings before […] on the outside of that lipid coating is something called polyethylene glycol. Polyethylene glycol is known to cause big allergic reactions”; “It's well known that that database captures about 10 percent of adverse events so we could be looking at right now as many as 12,000 deaths"

REVIEW


In an interview with Daystar Television Network, Sherri Tenpenny, a physician, made several claims about the COVID-19 vaccines currently in use in the U.S. Specifically, she claimed that the COVID-19 RNA vaccines could modify human DNA and that they caused deaths. This interview has been viewed over 1 million times on YouTube and shared widely on Facebook. This review explains why her claims are inaccurate, misleading, or lacking in important context.

Claim 1 (Inaccurate): “The [Spike] protein then can bind to your DNA and irreversibly change it.”

In the video, Tenpenny described how the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines lead to the production of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein in human cells. However, she added that “the protein then can bind to your DNA and irreversibly change it.”

As explained in a previous Health Feedback review, the COVID-19 RNA vaccines cannot modify our DNA. When the mRNA from the vaccine enters human cells, it triggers our cells to produce the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. The spike protein is then transported to the surface of the cell, where it can be detected by our immune system. At no point in this process does either the mRNA or the spike protein enter the nucleus of the cell, where our DNA is stored. This means that neither the RNA from the vaccine nor the spike protein comes into contact with our DNA. Hence they cannot modify our DNA.

Claim 2 (Lacks context): “They put it in a lipid coating that has several different type of lipids on it that have never been injected into human beings before […] on the outside of that lipid coating is something called polyethylene glycol. Polyethylene glycol is known to cause big allergic reactions.”

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines use fatty molecules called lipids to protect the mRNA until it reaches our cells. These vaccines were tested in people during clinical trials, where toxicity is closely monitored. The safety testing showed that these vaccines are safe and that any severe side effects are very rare.

Scientists have identified polyethylene glycol (specifically PEG-2000), a molecule attached to the lipids used in the mRNA vaccines, as a potential cause for rare cases of anaphylactic shock following COVID-19 vaccination[1,2]. Polyethylene glycol is not new in medicine and has already been used in drugs, where rare reactions have been observed. Polyethylene glycol is also used in everyday products such as toothpaste and shampoo as thickeners and solvents.

Anaphylaxis typically happens within several minutes. A patient with anaphylaxis can be treated with epinephrine (adrenaline), although they should also follow this up with an immediate trip to the emergency room. Guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend not giving a vaccine to anyone with a history of severe allergic reaction to any component of that vaccine. Based on reports so far, anaphylactic shock happens to about two to five people per million vaccinated with COVID-19 vaccines. A previous study estimated that vaccines in general trigger an anaphylactic shock in about one in a million people[3].

In light of these figures, it is important to keep in mind that more than 530,000 people in the U.S. have died from COVID-19 to date. The RNA vaccines have shown more than 90% efficacy at preventing COVID-19. Overall, the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccines outweigh their risks.

Claim 3 (Misleading): “It’s well known that that database captures about 10 percent of adverse events so we could be looking at right now as many as 12,000 deaths […] Can you think of any product in any industry […] that if somewhere between 1200 and 12,000 people had been killed using it in the first 10 weeks of use that it would still be on the market?”

There is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines have caused deaths. Following any report of a death as an adverse event following vaccination, the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration physicians carry out a review. As the CDC stated on its website:

Over 92 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered in the United States from December 14, 2020, through March 8, 2021. During this time, VAERS received 1,637 reports of death (0.0018%) among people who received a COVID-19 vaccine. CDC and FDA physicians review each case report of death as soon as notified and CDC requests medical records to further assess reports. A review of available clinical information including death certificates, autopsy, and medical records revealed no evidence that vaccination contributed to patient deaths.

As Health Feedback explained previously, the reporting of an adverse event following a vaccine isn’t evidence that it was caused by the vaccine. The U.S. Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) stated:

A report to VAERS generally does not prove that the identified vaccine(s) caused the adverse event described. It only confirms that the reported event occurred sometime after [the] vaccine was given. No proof that the event was caused by the vaccine is required in order for VAERS to accept the report.

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout recommendations prioritized people who are most vulnerable to the disease, including the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. It is important to note that a certain proportion of the general population will die regardless of whether they receive the vaccine or not. There isn’t any indication that the vaccinated populations are dying at a higher incidence compared to the unvaccinated population, which suggests that the COVID-19 vaccines aren’t causing deaths.

Conclusion

The COVID-19 RNA vaccines are unable to modify our DNA. Adverse events reported following vaccination does not suggest that the vaccine was the cause. There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines have contributed to any deaths. Data from clinical trials show that the COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. are safe and highly effective at preventing disease. While severe allergic reactions to the vaccine can occur, they are extremely rare and can be easily treated in a medical setting. Common side effects, like headaches, fever, and pain at the injection site, are mild and short-lived compared to the risks associated with getting COVID-19 itself. Overall, the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccines outweigh their risks..

REFERENCES

   

Published on: 17 Mar 2021 | Editor:

Science Feedback is a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to science education. Our reviews are crowdsourced directly from a community of scientists with relevant expertise. We strive to explain whether and why information is or is not consistent with the science and to help readers know which news to trust.
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