I was sent this recent Food For Thought YouTube video.

It contains a number of wild claims about vaccinations.

In particular, it contains snippets of edited, unsourced footage of Bill Gates saying:

one final way that's new and is promising is called the RNA vaccine. With RNA and DNA instead of putting that shape in, you put instructions in the code to make that shape.

The text description states:

Bill Gates caught on video admitting vaccine will CHANGE our DNA FOREVER.

Whether or not the Bill Gates was accurately quoted in context, can an RNA vaccine permanently change the recipients DNA?

  • 1
    To be more specific and to address the comments in the (currently only) answer, you might consider re-wording the question to narrow the scope. Instead of "Can an RNA vaccine permanently change the recipients DNA?" - perhaps, "Can an RNA vaccine as Gates described it change one's DNA permanently as the claim suggests? Unless you really are after an incredibly broad, "Can any RNA vaccine, now or in the future, permanently change one's DNA?"
    – CramerTV
    Aug 4 '20 at 17:12
  • 1
    You should quantify "permanent". Nothing living is forever. Whatever vaccine I get or don't get, my DNA will all be gone in a thousand years (short of very extraordinary circumstances).
    – Jeffrey
    Aug 5 '20 at 21:15
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    @Jeffrey I think it's pretty obvious that "permanent" here means "for the life of the subject". It seems reasonable from there to infer that later DNA replications and gene expression is affected by this change, or can be theoretically, but good answers should address that, not the frame of the question.
    – fredsbend
    Aug 5 '20 at 21:25
  • @fredsbend it appears that Jeffrey is nitpicking. In fact i can't think of a good word for 'permanent for the life of a subject' , or than permanent.
    – john
    Aug 5 '20 at 23:11
  • 1
    @MaxB That statement certainly needs a citation. Both the Moderna and the CureVac SARS-CoV2 mRNA vaccine don't use retroviruses. Retroviruses are used for gene therapy experiments, but I don't think any of the proposed mRNA vaccines for actual human use use retroviruses.
    – Mad Scientist
    Aug 12 '20 at 16:45

Later in that video the claim is specified a bit more, mentioning that mRNA with CRISPR/Cas will modify our genetic code. You can edit DNA with CRISPR, but that is not what is in an mRNA vaccine. The mRNA in an mRNA vaccine alone cannot edit DNA, in the CRISPR gene editing method the actual act of cutting the DNA to edit it is performed by Cas9, which is an enzyme, not RNA.

The quote by Bill Gates doesn't have anything to do with modifying the human genome. It explains the basic mechanism of mRNA vaccines. In a classic vaccine you use an inactivated virus, or just one protein of the virus. In mRNA vaccines you use mRNA that encodes a virus protein, which is read by your cells and that protein is produced for a short time. The code for creating that protein is never incorporated into your DNA, mRNA is read directly by the cells and protein is produced from it.

Your cells are constantly producing mRNA similar to the one in an mRNA vaccine (just encoding different proteins). You have to constantly produce new mRNA because mRNA is temporary: eventually mRNA is degraded and recycled. For an mRNA vaccine, no new mRNA is produced besides what is injected. mRNA produced in a cell doesn't modify your DNA, and neither would an mRNA vaccine.

  • 39
    @LangLаngС your link is about epigenetic modifications of mRNA that affect translation of that mRNA. I've no idea what that has to do with this topic. And I can't really answer this question without restrictions on what is in the vaccine, or I'd have to address 5G microchips that might be in there.
    – Mad Scientist
    Aug 4 '20 at 11:24
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    @LangLаngС I have to make the assumption that the vaccine contains an mRNA encoding a viral protein. The vaccine isn't distributed yet, so nobody can verify the contents at this point in time. If someone were free to put just whatever into it, of course the vaccine could do pretty much anything, but that is not a useful question to ask.
    – Mad Scientist
    Aug 4 '20 at 12:02
  • 53
    I believe it to be fair that, in the absence of a specific vaccine, a question about RNA vaccines as a category can be assumed to mean standard vaccines with RNA and not with some other, sinister additives. Could eating a cold pizza kill me? Well, yes, if it contains cyanide, or if it impacts my mouth travelling at 90% of the speed of light, but those are not due to the nature of the cold pizza. If you believe that it would be useful to answer that such a vaccine, if held above 5,700 Kelvin when injected, will damage your DNA, you can add such an answer.
    – Corrodias
    Aug 4 '20 at 16:32
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    @Corrodias Cold pizza usually hits my mouth at .9 c, and I'm the better for it.
    – fredsbend
    Aug 4 '20 at 17:51
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    @LangLаngС We can only answer the question that was asked. The question as presented by the OP is "can an RNA vaccine permanently change the recipients DNA?". This answer fully covers that. It doesn't cover questions like "could you inject malicious RNA that changes your DNA while claiming it to be a vaccine?" because that is only tangentially related to the direct question.
    – Kevin
    Aug 4 '20 at 19:58

This is an open-ended question which invites speculative scenarios - most and hopefully all of which will have been carefully considered during vaccine development. In concept the vaccine could alter DNA in several very rare and unusual ways, such as if the recipient has HIV and the vaccine RNA became a substrate for the viral reverse transcriptase. More plausibly, the recipient might produce an RNA transcript (possibly produced by a transposable element of viral origin) which base-pairs with the vaccine RNA. This would set off cellular antiviral alarms that affect histone proteins, which tightly adhere to the DNA and can affect the activity of specific genes for a long period of time ( https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5651755/ )

While that sounds very serious, we have to bear in mind not only the balance of probabilities, but also that DNA can be modified in ways that may be permanent for an individual and even transmitted to children and grandchildren - by a vast and mostly unknown set of common environmental circumstances such as famine, obesity, pollutants, and smoking. Look up search results for https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/?term=transgenerational+methylation+human and make up your own mind.

Anything is possible in biology. If you can't grow a warp drive in your belly, it's only because of physics. Yet many things that could happen are so unlikely that they never do, and we often need to make pragmatic choices between the known risk of death and debilitation on one side, and completely unproven scenarios on the other.

Note: per the question, we're not discussing the original conspiracy video's CRISPR idea, which describes a gene therapy product rather than a vaccine. You could put rat poison in a vaccine, but we wouldn't talk of the safety of rat poison when considering the safety of "vaccines".

  • 7
    The paper on RNA interference you cite is likely fraudulent (nature.com/articles/439514a). I haven't really followed this topic later, so I'm not sure about the current state of knowledge.
    – Mad Scientist
    Aug 5 '20 at 21:58
  • 4
    While I appreciate your disdain of absolutes, I'm refraining from a +1 because, as you said "we often need to make pragmatic choices between the known risk of death and debilitation on one side, and unproven scenarios on the other." - while a different choice, I question if it was pragmatic to post an open ended answer on a site like this, on this topic, where numerous readers will show up with their blinders on, looking for anything that ~agrees with them, and twist this answer into anti-vax "proof" without thinking through the very real and valid points you bring up
    – TCooper
    Aug 7 '20 at 0:42
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    @TCooper: I think we should strive for truth as its own purpose and have faith that it will work out best in the end. If we are patronizing, people will rightly ignore us. If we dismiss all risk, the risk increases. If we tell people nothing bad can happen and it does, vaccination could go the way of nuclear power. Every day people bite into hamburgers or salad vegetables knowing there are risks - what they need most is a sense of honest concern and attention to those risks. That sense of concern really does exist, and it's why we don't have vaccine now, so why not tell them about it? Aug 7 '20 at 11:05
  • 2
    I think it should be emphasized that the mechanisms you mention are exceedingly unlikely to be triggered by chance. A vaccine would have to be maliciously designed to do this. The HIV reverse transcriptase doesn't replicate just any sequence, and it is extremely unlikely that you'll have a matching complementary RNA in your cells that could produce double-stranded RNA out of the vaccine RNA.
    – Mad Scientist
    Aug 7 '20 at 11:32
  • 5
    Can eating a banana change your DNA permanently? Yes, there are scenario's where it can. At the same time it's highly misleading and doesn't put the information in it's proper context.
    – Christian
    Aug 14 '20 at 15:52

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