Can it alter DNA? Top COVID-19 vaccine myths debunked

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a lot of uncertainty, including confusion and distrust about the new vaccines we're being told we should take to help control the virus.

Action 13 tracked down a coronavirus vaccine expert to get answers to some of the most common misconceptions people might have.

The active ingredient in the COVID-19 vaccine, mRNA, can alter your DNA

Dr. Jill Weatherhead of the Baylor College of Medicine said this is false.

"The mRNA never enters into, what's called, the nucleus, which is where the DNA is kept secured. So there is no way the mRNA would integrate to the DNA to infect a person's genome," she said.

Weatherhead said hearing mRNA and associating it with DNA is fair, but in this case, they are two separate types of genetic material and even in two separate areas of the cells, making the accusation 'your DNA can be altered' false.

The COVID-19 vaccines can alter your immune system

Weatherhead said this is slightly true.

"In this case, the mRNA teaches or has your cells make a spike protein, the SARS-Cov-2 spike protein. Your immune system sees that protein, recognizes that it's foreign, that it is from a virus, and wants to get rid of it," she said. "It then creates, what's called, memory. So it will remember seeing that foreign protein or that danger signal, if it were to see it again."

"Let's say you were to be exposed to the virus. Your immune system has learned it is a danger signal, and it needs to take care of it and get rid of it so you don't get sick," she added.

You don't need the vaccine if you've already been infected with COVID-19

"At this point, this is a myth," Weatherhead said. "At this point, what we know is that the immune system response that each individual has when you have COVID-19 is varied. Additionally, the durability, so how long your immune system reacts, how strong that reaction is, is also varied between people. So just because you've had COVID-19, doesn't mean you are protected against it."

The current recommendation is, if you had the virus, you still need to get vaccinated to make sure you still have a strong enough immune response to protect you in the future, Whitehead explained.

Data does, however, show it's very rare to be re-infected in those first few months after having COVID-19, when antibodies are highest.

The vaccines can cause infertility in women

This is unlikely.

Weatherhead said, "This is misinformation that has been propagated on a theory: that the genetic code of the spike protein, which is the protein involved in the vaccine, has similar, although smaller portions, of genetic code that matches to placental protein. So the theory that is generated is that if you were to make the SAR-COV-2 protein, could those antibodies cross react with this placenta protein? And the answer to that is it's very unlikely, because the genetic similarity is very small. If that were the case, we would see infertility in our general population."

Doctors say they need more time to study fertility and the vaccines. So far, the data suggests there haven't been any problems.

The vaccines contain nanotechnology or a microchip that can track you

This is false.

"The vaccine contains very few ingredients," Whitehead said. "One of them being mRNA, which is the active ingredient in the vaccine, in addition to lipids salts and sugars, which are included to stabilize that mRNA. Other than that, there are no microchips, and there is no chance of anyone being able to trace you as a result of receiving this vaccine."

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