This post is not about the merits or safety of the COVID vaccines, it’s about the science behind the vaccines.
I have recently had a few conversations with people regarding the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna) with a belief that it will alter their DNA. For most people genetics/DNA is a subject they know very little about and it has possibly been poorly explained. I majored in Molecular Genetics (DNA) obtaining an Honours Degree in Science. I studied DNA, and would like to explain in simple terms the mechanism of these vaccines.
Having clear information helps us to understand and be able to make choices. If you feel uncomfortable about receiving the vaccine because you think it will alter your DNA, you have misunderstood the science. Whether you agree with the concept of vaccines is another subject. This is just about the mechanism of the vaccine.
Most simply, the vaccine uses the tools in the cell, to make a part of a protein that the immune system will attack. Then, when exposed to the actual virus, the response is quick, with the immune system attacking the virus. Ideally, no infection develops.
The workings of the cell
Let’s look at the cell in more detail. The DNA is like a masterplan. It is contained in the nucleus which is surrounded by the rest of the cell body. The nucleus is like a vault. It sends things out but not much goes in. The vaccine doesn’t go into the nucleus. Copies of bits of DNA are made and these copies are called mRNA (messenger RNA). They are sent out of the nucleus into the cell body. mRNA is not the same as DNA. It only tells a story. It doesn’t go back to the nucleus. And like the Ugly Duckling, it might look similar but it is not the same thing. DNA is way out of its league! They don’t just merge together again.
Using the tools in the body of the cell, the mRNA helps to make proteins. Then the mRNA is broken down. Proteins do loads of things in your body. They might be part of a structure (eg. skin, cell), an antibody (immune) or even a hormone (eg. testosterone).
The cell with a mRNA Vaccine
Let’s now look at the vaccine/mRNA. Like the regular mRNA, it uses the tools in the body of the cell to make a small part of a protein that is exactly like the unique protein on the COVID-19 virus. It only looks like part of the virus and it doesn’t do anything in the body except get recognised by the immune system as a foreign particle. The body then goes into attack mode. The immune system is activated. An immune response (headache, swelling, fever) after receiving the vaccine means the body is reacting. This is a rehearsal. The mRNA is broken down as usual. Memory cells keep the information and when the real COVID-19 protein is present, the immune system reacts much much faster, hopefully in time to halt any infection developing.
This is just an explanation of the science. I urge you to do your own research.