Can mRNA Vaccines Alter a Person’s DNA?

Dr. Paul Offit explains why it’s not possible for mRNA vaccines to alter a person’s DNA.


Can mRNA vaccines alter a person’s DNA?

Paul Offit, MD: Hi, my name is Paul Offit from the Vaccine Education Center. We've entered a new realm of vaccines, the so-called genetic vaccines, where you give people not a whole virus, or a weakened virus, or just part of the virus, rather, now what you give them is the gene that codes for a viral protein. So, this is now the genetic era of vaccines. And people can reasonably be concerned, is it possible then that these genetic vaccines could in any sense alter my DNA?

So right now, and this January 12th of 2021, we have two vaccines that are currently being used in the United States, both are messenger RNA vaccines. Can that messenger RNA, after it's taken up into the cell, alter our DNA? So, here's how it works. The messenger RNA is incased in a small lipid droplet, a so-called lipid nanoparticle, a fatty nanoparticle that then is taken up by the cell, and that lipid droplet is then stripped away. The messenger RNA is then translated to a protein in the cytoplasm of the cell. Now, DNA is not in the cytoplasm of the cell, it's in the nucleus of the cell. So, in order for the mRNA, the messenger RNA, to get into the nucleus, first it has to cross the nuclear membrane, which means it requires a nuclear access signal, kind of like a lock and a key, or a key and a lock, and it doesn't have that. Therefore, it actually can't ever get into the nucleus. But even if it could get into the nucleus, it's RNA, it's not DNA; it's a different language. So it needs to be then reverse transcribed to DNA. In order to do that, it requires the enzyme reverse transcriptase, which it doesn't have. So, it can't really get into the nucleus where the DNA resides, and messenger RNA doesn't really have the enzyme that allows it to be reversed transcribed to DNA. Even if it were reversed transcribed to DNA, which it's not because it can't be, it would still need to integrate into the DNA with an enzyme called integrase, which it also doesn't have.

So for all three reasons, the fact that the mRNA can't enter the nucleus; the fact that the mRNA isn't DNA and would need to be translated or reverse transcribed back to DNA; and because it can't be integrated into DNA, it is not possible for messenger RNA to alter DNA. The chance of that happening is not small — it's zero. It is not possible.

Thank you.

Related Centers and Programs: Vaccine Education Center

Last Reviewed on Feb 10, 2021