Your DNA is safe

Steve Gillespie

I got my first COVID-19 vaccination on April 23. It was the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. I got my second shot when it was scheduled, on May 14.

I wasn’t “eligible” for vaccination, according to the state of Arkansas, until the middle of March.

As of Thursday the Arkansas Department of Health reported that 1,892,738 vaccine doses had been administered in the state, which translates to 239,525 people age 12 or older who have been partially immunized, and 857,105 people 12 or older (36.09 percent of the state’s population within that age group) that have been fully immunized.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has encouraged us to hit the 50 percent mark for those eligible to be vaccinated by the end of the month. The state is running a multi-million dollar ad campaign to encourage people to get their shots. There’s still a lot of hesitancy about taking the vaccine.

I didn’t have any really bad side-effects. My arm hurt for a day each time I got my shots, and I slept a lot the day after each dose.

I’m not sure who has and who hasn’t been vaccinated among the people I regularly see. I don’t go around asking people if they’ve been vaccinated. But I’ve been surprised by some of the myths that have been spread about the vaccines, not least of all the tale that it alters your DNA!

The Centers for Disease Control tell us COVID-19 vaccines do not change or interact with DNA in any way.

“Both mRNA and viral vector COVID-19 vaccines deliver instructions (genetic material) to our cells to start building protection against the virus that causes COVID-19,” The CDC states. “However, the material never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA is kept. This means the genetic material in the vaccines cannot affect or interact with our DNA in any way. All COVID-19 vaccines work with the body’s natural defenses to safely develop immunity to disease.”

In a recent Forbes article, Sara Riordan, President of the National Society of Genetic Counselors, explained: “mRNA is naturally made by the body, it encodes instructions for your body’s cells to make protein. Any mRNA vaccine has the same purpose, to teach and train your body to make an immune response toward a particular pathogen, so if the pathogen gets into your body, your immune system can attack it.”

Some of the concern about this is attributed to misrepresentations that have circulated from Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine CLINICAL TRIAL protocol, which claimed Pfizer warns people not to have unprotected sex after the second COVID-19 vaccine dose for up to 28 days because of the risk of “birth defects due to genetic manipulation.”

As the Associated Press reports, the false claim, which has resurfaced, began circulating in December. “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency authorization for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in December. Before that, the vaccine was tested in clinical trials that excluded pregnant women. Page 132 of a Pfizer protocol document instructs clinical trial participants to take measures to avoid becoming pregnant or getting someone pregnant “for a minimum of 28 days after the last dose of study intervention.” Pfizer began testing the COVID-19 vaccine on pregnant women in February. Medications and vaccines are typically tested first in young, healthy people who are not pregnant or at risk of getting pregnant, said Dr. Andrea L. Cox, a professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Once proven to be safe among healthy adults who are not pregnant, drugs and vaccines can be tested on pregnant people, children and more vulnerable populations. “Whenever clinical trials are run and usually, again, no matter what you’re testing, there is a higher safety bar set for pregnant people because it’s key that we know something before we put a developing, potentially a developing fetus at risk as well as the pregnant woman,” Cox said.”

AP has also noted that Dr. Arnold Monto, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, said there was nothing unusual about Pfizer’s instructions to clinical trial participants. “I think the wording on contraception is pretty typical of an early study when you are being cautious,” Monto said.

These vaccines can’t change anyone’s DNA, like what happens to a superhero, or a werewolf, or to Jerry Lewis in “The Nutty Professor” when his serum transforms Julius Kelp into Buddy Love. But the vaccines can turn people into first-class jerks – just like Buddy Love – if they help spread this kind of misinformation.

Steve Gillespie is editor of The Times Dispatch. Email him at editor@thetd.com.

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