The most common myths about vaccinations

About DNA changes, the risk of infertility, dubious immunity and imperfect vaccinations against coronavirus – the publication of Deutsche Welle dealt with the myths about vaccination. Let’s argue?

Many people avoid vaccination amid rumors of its consequences. The availability of vaccines expands the amount of information about them, but it is not understood by everyone and causes uncertainty. As a result, versions appear, to put it mildly, not always adequate. The four leading myths on the list have tried to expose DW.

Alteration of human DNA with mRNA vaccines is a myth, it is reliably protected in the cell nucleus. Rumors appeared, most likely, because of the similar at first glance terms – mRNA and DNA. Let’s try to figure out what they mean.

There are three main macromolecules in the human body – RNA, proteins and DNA. The latter is deoxyribonucleic acid. Its task is to store and transfer from generation to generation the genetic program for the development of a living organism, reliably store biological information in the form of a genetic code, which consists of nucleotides, the building blocks of nucleic acids.

RNA, ribonucleic acid, plays an equally important role in the coding, reading and regulation of genes. In addition, she is responsible for programming the synthesis of proteins in living organisms, that is, for the actual implementation of the “building plans” of DNA.

Indeed, the genetic material of some viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, is also represented by ribonucleic acid, viruses use this to reproduce in the cells of living organisms, where they are introduced. But the human body recognizes the virus by the spike protein and in a hurry creates T-lymphocytes and antibodies that destroy the “invader”.

The goal of vaccination against coronavirus, like any other, is to induce an immune response to a pathogen, without the need for the entire SARS-CoV-2 virus to enter the body. Therefore, the mRNA vaccine introduces only a small fragment of it: a synthetically engineered portion of the mRNA. Once in a cell, the genetic machinery follows “instructions” to produce a viral protein, which is then released onto the cell surface and forcing the immune system to develop a response to the pathogen. But since the RNA of the coronavirus does not have free access to the cell nucleus, it is unable to get to our genome and mix with it. In this case, after the body develops antibodies, the cell decomposes the used RNA of the pathogen.

However, in December last year, this whole harmonious system caused a heated debate among scientists, and that’s what was the reason. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found that if infected with coronavirus, fragments of the SARS-CoV-2 genome can be incorporated into the human genome using the reverse transcriptase gene. This enzyme is capable of converting RNA into DNA, which, as we already know, has access to the cell nucleus. An unreferenced preprint of the study was published on bioRxiv and, as mentioned above, caused a heated debate in the scientific community.

Virologist and Nobel laureate David Baltimore notes in an interview with Science that the study “raises many interesting questions.” But it only shows the possibility of penetration of the SARS-CoV-2 fragment into the cell nucleus, while it does not form an infectious material. As the scientist characteristically said, “this is probably a biological dead end.”

In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Waldemar Kolanus, director of the LIMES Institute for Basic Biomedical Research at the University of Bonn, expressed his point of view. He noted that the mechanism used in the study has nothing to do with the vaccination mechanism. The structure of the synthetic mRNA of the virus, which is part of the vaccine preparation, has been modified to prevent its immediate destruction by cells:

“It is probably impossible to reverse this process. In this regard, mRNA vaccines are much safer than the actual viral genome.”

Another common myth is that vaccination increases the risk of infertility in women. It is based on a letter from antivaxers to the EMA, where it was stated that antibodies produced during the vaccination process react, in addition to the spike protein of the coronavirus, and to a similar one – synticin-1, which is necessary for the formation of the placenta in the uterus. Suppression of its activity supposedly leads to infertility. But there is absolutely no evidence that the vaccine affects fertility. Udo Markert, head of the placental laboratory at the University Hospital Jena, tells DW:

“There are many reasons why these claims are initially unfounded. First of all, because the similarity between the spike protein of the coronavirus and synticin-1 is minimal: only 0.75%.”

Another discrepancy, she said, is that when a woman is infected with a coronavirus, there is much more spike protein in a woman’s body than after vaccination:

“This would mean that SARS-CoV-2 infection poses a much greater risk of infertility than vaccination. It was found that women infected with the SARS virus during the outbreak of SARS in 2002-2003 were not at any risk of infertility. and the spike protein of this virus is almost identical to the SARS-CoV-2 protein. “

The final word was taken by the British Fertility Society:

“There is no evidence or theoretical basis to claim that any of the covid vaccines affect fertility in women or men.”

Imperfect vaccines due to their too rapid development is myth # 3. This is not entirely true. Typically, it takes about 10-15 years to develop and certify a vaccine, sometimes more. The first drugs for vaccination against coronavirus appeared a little earlier than a year after the start of the pandemic. It is this fact that causes mistrust and fear among many people. However, this promptness is due to many circumstances, one of which is the presence of preliminary knowledge obtained in studies of other coronaviruses, for example, MERS in 2012 and SARS in 2002-2003. Even then, scientists were working on the creation of vaccines, and their results were successfully used.

Financial support has played an important role. The colossal amounts invested in the development of vaccines around the world made it possible to work with the necessary volumes of resources. This helped to carry out a large number of studies, to increase the number of scientific workers.

Mark Toschner, who was involved in the development of vaccines, says that it usually takes a lot of time to wait: funding, selection of trial participants, obtaining approvals for testing, etc. But the pandemic has made its own adjustments and accelerated all processes, often conducting them in parallel. However, the registration was accompanied by all the necessary and strict control procedures of the EMA – European Medicines Agency.

And finally, the fourth myth: immunity after illness protects better than after vaccination. One could take a risk if one was sure that the disease would go away asymptomatically or at least in a mild form. Such in Germany, for example, 80%. And the rest? What if you find yourself among the 20% of the “lucky ones” who require hospitalization and connection to a ventilator, or even among those who will no longer need immunity in the future? After all, there is no guarantee that the severe course of the disease will be bypassed, even for young, healthy and physically strong people.

In addition, the “postcoid syndrome”, long and exhausting, has not been canceled, even after a mild form of the disease. And these are systemic vascular lesions, chronic fatigue and other, not too pleasant, consequences of the transferred coronavirus. At the same time, according to Reinhold Förster, vice president of the German Society for Immunology, no one can yet say for sure how long these consequences can last – too little time has passed to determine this parameter.

The virologist Christian Drosten is in favor of vaccination, claiming that after vaccination, more antibodies are formed, and they remain in the body for a much longer period:

“Vaccination significantly enhances long-term immunity against infection.”

Foerster talks about the results of the latest study, which have not yet been published:

“It is about the quantity and quality of antibodies produced during vaccination. The quality lies mainly in their affinity, that is, how tightly the antibody attaches to the spike protein of the pathogen and thereby prevents infection. After two doses of inoculation, BioNTech / Pfizer and the number of antibodies and their affinity are much higher than after the disease. “

Of course, everyone makes the decision on vaccination independently, this is too delicate a question. And yet, you should weigh the pros and cons, while taking into account the importance of such a step for those around you – relatives and friends, friends and acquaintances, work colleagues and just people with whom you are traveling in the same bus or sitting at a table in a cafe. And it will become easier to make a decision after you have learned the opinion of experts about the existing myths about vaccination.

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