With hundreds of thousands of views social media, posts referring to Pfizer and BioNTechs COVID-19 vaccine candidate claim that any vaccine that needs to be shipped and stored at -80 degrees isnt a vaccine but rather a transfection agent, kept alive so it can infect your cells and transfer genetic material. Alleging that the vaccine will be used for genetic manipulation of humans on a massive scale, this claim is false.
Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS
The claim originated in aNov. 15 tweet from a user known as The Disruptive Physician with the handle @DocEvenhouse(here). Facebook and Instagramsharing screenshots of the tweetcan be foundhere,hereandhere.
There arecurrently threeCOVID-19 vaccinefrontrunners: one made byAstraZeneca, one made byPfizer and its German partnerBioNTech,andone made byModerna.As reportedhereby the Washington Post,AstraZeneca says that its vaccine candidate, developed by Oxford University, is up to 90% effectivein clinical trials.Pfizer andModernahavereported vaccines that are 95%effective.
The AstraZeneca vaccine uses a modified version of a chimpanzee cold virus to deliver instructions to cells to fight the target virus (here).
Meanwhile, both the Pfizer andModernacandidates rely on new technology known as messenger RNA (mRNA)to activate the immune system against the virus(here,here).Eachusessynthetic genetic materialthat can be generated and manufactured in weeks, and produced at scale more rapidly than conventional vaccines(here).
Each candidate has different storage temperature requirements.
TheAstraZenecavaccinecan also be transported and stored at normal fridge temperatures, which proponents say would make it easier to distribute - especially in poor countries(here).
TheModernavaccineis stored at minus20 degrees Celsius (-4F), but canbe keptfor a month atnormalrefrigerator temperatures(here).
Referencedin the social media posts, the Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius (-94 F) or below - equivalent to an Antarctic winter(here).As reportedherebySanjay Mishra, project coordinator for the "COVID-19 andCancer Consortium" at Vanderbilt University Medical Centerand published onThe Conversation, the vaccine willdegrade in five days if keptatregularrefrigeration temperatures of slightly above freezing.
The Disruptive Physicians claim that any vaccine that needs to be shipped and stored at -80 degrees isnt a vaccine is false.AsMishraexplainshere,the biggest challenge in developing an mRNA vaccine is its inherent instability, because it is more likely to break apart above freezing temperatures.
Likening the Pfizer andModernavaccinesstoragetemperaturesto freezing food to keep it from spoiling,Margaret Liu, aboard member of theInternational Society for Vaccineswhospecializes in genetic vaccines, told NPR thatlower temperatures slow down the pace of chemical reactions,like the enzymes that break down RNA(here).Sincethemanufacturers do not disclosetheirspecific formulations, itis notyetclear whyPfizer andModernasmRNA vaccinesrequiredifferentstoragetemperatures.
Business Insider explainsherethatit is possiblePfizers vaccine could be fine at temperatures above that, but scientists were in such a rush to create the vaccine that they don't know for sure.
MRNA VACCINES DO NOT CAUSE GENETIC MANIPULATION OF HUMANS
The posts claim that the Pfizer vaccine is designed forgenetic manipulation of humans on a massive scale has no basis in fact.AsMishraclarifieshere,the synthetic genetic material contained in an mRNA vaccinedoes not mean a patients DNA is changed or passed onto their offspring.Instead, themoleculeguides the protein production inside the muscle cells, which reaches peak levels for 24 to 48 hours and can last for a few more days."
The Reuters Fact Check team previouslyfact-checked falsesocial media claims thata COVID-19 vaccineinvolving the injectionof the virussgenetic codewould genetically modify humans, visiblehere.
MarkLynas, a visiting fellow at Cornell Universitys Alliance for Science group(here),debunked the idea that such a vaccine could genetically modify an organism.Lynastold Reuters that no vaccine can genetically modify human DNA.
Thats just a myth, one often spread intentionally by anti-vaccination activists to deliberately generate confusion and mistrust, he said. Genetic modification would involve the deliberate insertion of foreign DNA into the nucleus of a human cell, and vaccines simply dont do that.
Dr. Paul McCray, Professor of Pediatrics, Microbiology, and Internal Medicine at the University of Iowa(here),previously explained to Reuters via email howaCOVID-19 vaccineusing a DNA or RNA vectorwould work:
As is the case with a vaccine that uses an inactivated (dead) virus, the only modification to the host is to stimulate them to make antibodies and T cells that will prevent infection with the virus or kill any infected cells to prevent or reduce disease severity. This is what happens if you get a virus infection naturally, but the vaccine takes the risk of serious disease out of the equation.
False. Pfizers COVID-19 vaccine candidate is stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius because of the mRNA vaccines inherent instability the very cold temperature slows down the chemical reactions that break apart RNA. Though both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines contain synthetic genetic material, they do not genetically modify humans receiving them.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media postshere.
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