Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Is It Safe to Have mRNA Vaccines?

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the globe, rumors and fuzzy theories regarding the infection, effects, and treatments have been doing the rounds. Even after mRNA vaccines have gained momentum around the world, the rumors and theories refuse to die down.

A section of social media users has been circulating posts regarding the mRNA vaccines made for combatting the coronavirus are going to alter the genetic structure of the recipients. According to health experts, most such theories are far from the truth.

Pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer and Moderna have come up with COVID vaccines that make use of genetic codes derived from SARS-CoV-2. The vaccines produce an immune response in your body. However, most health experts think comparing them with gene therapy is not right.

mRNA vaccines vs gene therapy

Griffith University’s research fellow and noted virologist Dr. Adam Taylor says: “As mRNA is genetic material, mRNA vaccines can be looked at as a genetic-based therapy, but they are classified as vaccines and are not designed to alter your genes. Gene therapy, in the classical sense, involves making deliberate changes to a patient’s DNA in order to treat or cure them. mRNA vaccines will not enter a cell’s nucleus that houses your DNA genome. There is zero risk of these vaccines integrating into our own genome or altering our genetic makeup.”

Six vials of COVID-19 vaccine from different manufacturers.
Pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer and Moderna have come up with COVID vaccines that make use of genetic codes derived from SARS-CoV-2. (Image: Pojoslaw via Dreamstime)

Taylor went on to say the mRNA enters body cells soon after the vaccination and makes them develop a SARS-CoV-2 spike protein so that apt immunity is developed. Gene therapy is a much more elaborate process that takes a long time to accomplish its objectives. That involves making big changes to the genetic makeup of an individual for specific needs. An example is replacing a gene leading to an ailment with a healthy one. 

According to David Schaffer, a Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering professor at the University of California: “If we suffer from an inherited blood disease then the defect in our genes can be corrected in blood cells, and then we can be cured. In most cases, the DNA is therapeutic because it encodes an mRNA, which encodes a protein that has a beneficial effect on a patient. So, if someone has a disease where the gene encoding an important protein is mutated — such as hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, retinitis pigmentosa — then it can be possible to deliver the DNA encoding the correct copy of that protein in order to treat the disease.”

mRNA chains

Moderna’s mRNA COVID-19 vaccine has been used in many countries and the company has explained the distinction between gene therapy and mRNA, calling them fundamentally different methods.

The vaccines used by Pfizer and Moderna use small lipid nanoparticles to send a strand of genetic material into the cells and that is known as messenger RNA (mRNA). These pieces of mRNA get inside the cytoplasm that makes up human cells. Then they join other messenger RNA pieces sitting in the cytoplasm of each cell in the body. 

The vaccines used by Pfizer and Moderna use small lipid nanoparticles to send a strand of genetic material into the cells and that is known as messenger RNA (mRNA).
The vaccines used by Pfizer and Moderna use small lipid nanoparticles to send a strand of genetic material into the cells and that is known as messenger RNA (mRNA). (Image: via Pixabay)

The mRNA chains are like work orders with instructions for creating spike proteins that thwart entry and growth of coronavirus. The spikes migrate to body cells and they are then remembered by the human immune system.

These spikes are not very harmful as such. While messenger RNA is actually genetic material, the FDA categorizes them as vaccines. The mRNA chains from existing COVID-19 mRNA vaccines last for 2 days or so before they get swept away by the waste disposal system of the human body. They do not have enough capability to modify the genetic structure of cells in the human body, per se.

Medical experts say the vaccines cannot enter the nucleus, which serves as the cell’s control center. The nucleus has a membrane and that can be breached if the mRNA has a nuclear access signal enzyme. The mRNA lacks it.

The human body has many defense mechanisms in place to alter spontaneous altering of the genetic setup and the vaccines are therefore safe. The vaccines are holding up well against the mutating virus, say the experts, and the side effects have not been severe. 

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Jack Roberts
Jack Roberts is an author who specializes in World Events and Global geopolitics.
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