Dr. Hank Bernstein explains how the mRNA from the COVID-19 vaccine is broken down and removed from the body.
What Stops the Body from Continuing to Produce the COVID-19 Spike Protein after Getting an mRNA Vaccine?
Hank Bernstein, MD: I am Hank Bernstein and I'm speaking on behalf of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. This is an interesting question. As you know, the mRNA translates the information needed to produce the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, that protein that's on the surface of the virus. That protein is unique to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but it's harmless by itself. The body's immune system recognizes the spike protein shouldn't be there, so it produces the protection against it. Our B lymphocytes and T lymphocytes, both types of white cells, remember how to fight the virus that causes COVID-19 if we're ever infected in the future.
Fortunately, mRNA has a very short life span. It stays in the cytoplasm, attaches to the ribosome, passes on its message, and then gets destroyed. It doesn't enter the nucleus of the cell and it does not alter DNA. Since our cells are continuously producing proteins, mRNA is broken down fairly quickly by normal body processes. The cell breaks down the mRNA into harmless pieces and gets rid of it.
So, what I'm saying in summary is that after our cells make copies of the protein, the enzymes in the body degrade the mRNA and dispose of it.
Related Centers and Programs: Vaccine Education Center
Last Reviewed on Mar 16, 2021