APRIL 8, 20215:10 PMUPDATED 16 DAYS AGO
Fact Check-Moderna’s chief medical officer did not say mRNA vaccines alter DNA
7 MIN READ
Social media users have been sharing articles that claim Moderna’s chief medical officer Tal Zaks has said mRNA vaccines – like the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 – alter DNA. This claim is false. It is based on comments made by Zaks that have been misconstrued, and Reuters has found no evidence of him making any such comments elsewhere.
The posts (here , here , here) show either a link or a screenshot taken from an article that has been copied verbatim on multiple websites here , here and here . Every site leads with the same headline: “Bombshell: Moderna Chief Medical Officer Admits mRNA alters DNA.”
According to the article, evidence of the claim in the headline can be traced back to Zaks giving a TedTalk in 2017 (here). It specifically points to Zaks’ turns of phrase such as: “We are actually hacking the software of life” and: “We think about it as an operating system. So if you could actually change that… if you could introduce a line of code, or change a line of code, it turns out it has profound implications for everything.”
After quoting Zaks (here), the article then makes its own conclusion: “When ‘changing’ a line of code or ‘introducing’ a line of code (referring to DNA), the ‘code’ or DNA is then altered, meaning the individual or ‘subject’ has now had their genome changed to what the ‘scientists’ have coded. The individual or subject is no longer a creation of God but a creation of man, meaning the individual or subject could be the object of a ‘patent’.”
This is not true. It is a conclusion based off a misrepresentation of quotes made by Zaks, who at no point in his TedTalk says mRNA vaccines will change a person’s DNA. In fact, his explanation and diagram of an mRNA flu vaccination at work demonstrates the opposite.
“So here’s all the biology you need to know in 30 seconds,” says Zaks at the beginning of his explanation. “Our body is made out of organs, our organs are made out of cells, and in every cell there’s this thing called messenger RNA, or mRNA for short, that transmits the critical information from the DNA, our genes, to the protein, which is really the stuff we’re all made out of. This is the critical information that determines what a cell will actually do.”
While Zaks is speaking, he presents a diagram showing the cell. DNA is situated inside the nucleus, which sends mRNA out into the wider cell to a “protein-making unit” to instruct the unit to make a protein.
“So many of us get a vaccine,” Zaks continues as he begins to talk about the flu. “What is a vaccine? It is an injection in our arm where we get bits and pieces of the virus, the proteins, and that teaches our immune system to recognise the virus – so when we get infected we’re not sick.
“Now, imagine that instead of giving the protein, we would give the instructions on how to make the protein, how the body can make its own vaccine. That’s an mRNA vaccine.”
Zaks then returns to his diagram to show the mRNA entering the cell and travelling straight for the “protein-making unit” to instruct it to create a specific protein. It does not interact with the nucleus – and therefore not the DNA (here). Zaks adds: “So the traditional approach has proteins floating around your cells. An mRNA vaccine approach has the cells themselves in your own body making the vaccine.”
This is how Moderna’s mRNA vaccine for COVID-19 works (here , here) , as well as the shot created by Pfizer/BioNTech (here , here). Both inject a small piece of genetic code from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, to instruct human cells to create the virus’ unique spike protein. Its aim is for the immune system to recognise and eliminate the spike protein so it is trained to target this structure if it ever comes into contact with the real SARS-CoV-2. After this process, the mRNA is broken down, and does not stay in the body (here). The Moderna website explains the mRNA technology in more detail here .
The additional context to Zaks’ talk shows the Moderna boss was using terms such as “operating system” and “software of life” metaphorically. Reuters has also previously debunked claims related to the use of the former phrase on Moderna’s website (here), as well as other false claims that COVID-19 vaccines can change a person’s DNA here , here , here and here .
False. mRNA vaccines do not alter the recipients’ DNA and Moderna CMO Tal Zaks did not say they did.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
Has Moderna’s Boss Said That Vaccines Can Alter Human DNA? A FactCheck The claims misrepresents a 2017 Ted Talk of Tal Zaks where he talks about vaccines.
12 April 2021 5:02 PM
An article shared thousands of times on social media claims that Tal Zaks, the chief medical officer of US pharma firm Moderna, said messenger RNA vaccines can “alter” human DNA. The posts, which circulated online as Moderna’s mRNA Covid-19 vaccine was administered to millions of people around the world, claim Zaks made the comments during a TEDx Talk.
The claim is false: Zaks did not make the purported comments. Scientists have previously rejected false claims that mRNA vaccines can alter DNA.
“Bombshell: Moderna Chief Medical Officer Admits MRNA Alters DNA,” reads the screenshot of an article shared on Twitter on March 20, 2021. The post links to an article on US website DC Dirty Laundry.
The article, which has been shared more than 3,500 times on Facebook, reads: “While many in the media, Dr. Anthony Fauci and his merry band of chronic liars, and “fact checkers” have declared this claim as false, a video of a TEDx Beacon Street talk by Tal Zaks, chief medical officer of Moderna, Inc., one pharmaceutical company manufacturer of the experimental mRNA technology injection, confirms mRNA injection for COVID-19 can change your genetic code or DNA,” the article reads.
The Moderna Covid-19 jab is an mRNA vaccine that uses an inert snippet of genetic code from the coronavirus. It triggers an immune response in the body that can repel the active virus. The article was also published on multiple web pages, including here, here and here.
Below is the screenshot captured on April 6, 2021, of the misleading article
Similar claims have emerged on social media in various languages, including Chinese, French and Spanish. The claim is false. Misinterpreted comments The article links to a TEDx Talk entitled “Rewriting the Genetic Code: A Cancer Cure In the Making” that Zaks gave in 2017. During the talk, he said messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines could be used to treat illnesses including influenza, cancer or genetic disorders.
“Our body is made out of organs, our organs are made out of cells and in every cell there is this thing called messenger RNA or mRNA for short, which transmits the critical information from the DNA (in) our genes to the protein, which is really the stuff we are all made out of,” he said.
“This is the critical information that determines what a cell will actually do. So, we think of it like an operating system. It’s not just in every cell of our body, it’s actually, in every cell of every organism alive, it’s the same thing. So if you could actually change that, which we call the software of life, if you could introduce a line of code or change a line of code, it turns out that it has profound implications for everything from the flu to cancer.”
This quote was misleadingly used in the DC Dirty Laundry article to wrongly suggest that Zaks said mRNA vaccines can alter human DNA.
When he alluded to changing a “line of code”, Zaks was in fact referring to messenger RNA, not DNA.
AFP found no record of alleged statements from Zaks making the false claim shared in the social media posts.
Scientists have widely rejected the unsubstantiated claim that mRNA vaccines can modify human DNA. AFP has debunked social media posts sharing the false claim here and here.
Dr. María Victoria Sánchez, a researcher at the IMBECU-CCT-CONICET Immunology and Vaccine Development Laboratory in Argentina, told AFP that mRNA vaccines cannot penetrate a person’s genes.
“The process is carried out in the cytoplasm, not in the nucleus of the cell,” she said in a phone call on September 3, 2020.
“Messenger RNA cannot “get into” our DNA.”
“The mRNA is simply translated into a protein, it degrades rapidly, and it cannot be converted to DNA,” Kenneth Witwer, professor of molecular and comparative pathobiology and neurology at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Medicine, told AFP on September 4, 2020 by email. The same claim was also debunked by AFP in French and Spanish.
The article also falsely claims that billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates admitted that mRNA vaccines can alter human DNA, which AFP debunked here.
Updated On: 14 April 2021 10:35 PM
Claim Review : Modernas chief medical officer says vaccines alters DNA Claimed
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Fact Check : False Modena Ted Talk DNA mrna