Over 510,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in North Dakota, but there is still a portion of the population who is not fully on board with getting a shot. Many of them have concerns about what the vaccine can do to their body.
Two of the newest vaccines, developed for COVID-19, are called mRNA vaccines. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines were fast-tracked into production, but the science has been studied for two decades. Because they involved RNA, there has been a lot of speculation on various internet sights that the vaccines could have a lasting impact on a person’s DNA.
Every doctor we talked with debunked that theory, and they don’t just say it’s highly unlikely, they say it is impossible.
“It really cannot incorporate into the DNA or change the DNA because it never even enters that center part of the cell where the DNA lives,” said Dr. David Basel, from Avera Health in South Dakota.
At Sanford’s Imagentics building, genetic research and genetic care are ongoing. Dr. Cassie Hajek is a clinical geneticist.
“What’s been so incredible about this is that using mRNA vaccines is a way to create a vaccine much quicker than we ever have before, so even though we got that vaccine out there quickly the science behind it has been around for a long time,” said Hajek.
The science behind it works like this. The messenger RNA enters the outer portion of the cell. Delivering instructions on how to produce the spike protein. The cell produces the spike protein and sends it out, the body’s immune system detects the spike protein and creates antibodies. So if you are exposed to the real virus later, your body will recognize the spike proteins and prevent the virus from using them to get into your cells
The mRNA in the vaccine does not have the key needed to enter the cell nucleus which contains our DNA.
When you think about where DNA is in the cell, it is in the nucleus of the cell kind of the brain of the cell, the mRNA never enters that nucleus, the mRNA goes into that area around the nucleus to give the cell instruction to make this model of the spike protein and then it degrades. It is not that this is something new, that’s what mRNA does, it tells the cell how to make a protein and then it degrades.
The mRNA only stays in our bodies for one to two days, this is why we need two doses to build up the antibodies. Dr. Hajak says conventional vaccines take much longer to develop, so there is no doubt in her mind that mRNA vaccines are saving lives.
“That rapid development is truly one of the greatest benefits of mRNA vaccines,” said Hajek. “When you have a pandemic like this time is of the essence every day means lives, so you really need to have a way to manufacturer these quickly and that’s what the mRNA science allows us to do.”
She says she can understand why some people are hesitant, but as a clinical geneticist, she sees mRNA vaccines as the improved, the new normal.
According to Hajek, “I think we can all feel really comfortable that this is a safe and effective mechanism for helping us fight this pandemic.”
Scientists are already working on new mRNA technology, which could hopefully lead to better flu vaccines, and vaccines for illnesses like Herpes, Malaria and Cystic Fibrosis.