- mRNA vaccines give a message to the human body to produce immune response
- mRNA is fragile and can hang around inside a cell for only 72 hours: Expert
- mRNA vaccines are being used for the first time and are approved by WHO
New Delhi: Along with fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, medical experts are battling misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak. Right from the origins of the virus, home remedies to cure COVID-19 and now with vaccine rollout, researchers, medical experts and scientists have throughout the pandemic had an additional task of dispelling myths and busting misinformation. One of the common myths doing rounds on the internet around coronavirus vaccine is that it irreversibly changes the DNA of an individual. NDTV spoke to experts to understand the science behind it.
The myth the COVID-19 vaccines alter the DNA is specific to mRNA (messenger-RNA) vaccines as they use the genetic approach. Two of the COVID-19 vaccines – Pfizer-BioNTech’s BNT162b2 and Moderna’s mRNA-1273 – are mRNA vaccines.
DNA Vs mRNA
Dr Mala V. Kaneria, Consultant, Infectious Diseases, Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre, Mumbai, suggests understanding the difference between DNA and mRNA. She explained,
DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) is a double stranded, very long genetic material which is spunned up together inside a part of the cell called the nucleus. Whereas mRNA is a single stranded copy of a very small part of the DNA which is routinely made in the nucleus and released into the cytoplasm outside the nucleus. The function of mRNA is to act like an instruction manual to provide instructions to the cellular machinery to make proteins which are required for the body.
What Are mRNA Vaccines?
In layman’s language, the job of mRNA is to give a message to our cells to make a protein or even just a piece of a protein which are like those of the virus. The protein then triggers an immune response inside our bodies.
Additionally, Dr Prashant Borade, Head – Critical Care Unit, Global Hospitals, Mumbai, said,
The available COVID-19 vaccines are designed to help your body’s immune system fight the coronavirus. The messenger RNA from two of the first types of COVID-19 vaccines does enter cells, but not the nucleus of the cells where DNA resides. The mRNA does its job to cause the cell to make protein to stimulate the immune system, and then it quickly breaks down — without affecting the person’s DNA.
Dr Kaneria added that mRNA is fragile compared to the DNA and can hang around inside a cell for only 72 hours.
The minute mRNA’s function of giving instructions to our cells is over; it is degraded by our cells. Therefore, mRNA doesn’t remain in the body for long, said Dr Kaneria.
Are mRNA Vaccines Safe?
Dr Katherine O’Brien, WHO Director of the Department of Immunisation, Vaccines and Biologicals dismissed the rumour and said, there is no way that mRNA can turn into DNA. And there’s no way that mRNA can change the DNA of our human cells. She added,
What mRNA is, it is the instructions to the body to make a protein. Most vaccines are developed by actually giving a protein or giving a small, tiny component of the germ that we are trying to vaccinate against. And this is a new approach where instead of giving that tiny little part, we just give the instructions to our own bodies to make that tiny little part and then our natural immune system responds to it.
According to Dr Kaneria, the fear that mRNA vaccines can modify DNA stems from the fact that there are certain viruses like the HIV virus which are known to integrate into the DNA and cause its replication. However, in the case of SARS-CoV-2, mRNA from the vaccine never enters the nucleus of the cell and does not affect or interact with a person’s DNA.
On December 31, 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) listed the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine for emergency use, making the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine the first to receive emergency validation from WHO since the outbreak began. Though the technology has been there for decades, Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine is the first mRNA vaccine to be approved for use in humans.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.