Please help me understand why RNA vaccines do not "change your RNA"

(I have a high school level understanding of biology and grade school understanding of chemistry, so please be kind)

At Gov. DeSantis’s latest press conference a man from Gainesville said,

The vaccine changes your RNA so for me, that’s a problem

My understanding of RNA is that it is like a message from the nucleus of a cell to the organelles that make proteins. I think of it like me/the nucleus writing “make me X protein, please” on a piece of paper, folding it up into an airplane, and tossing it to the protein-making organelle. The “paper” medium, and therefore my instructions, are RNA.

And my understanding of the RNA vaccines (Pfizer & Moderna) is that they deliver strands of ready-made RNA so the organelle can make proteins that will trigger an immune response. So that would be the nurse/EMT tossing her own paper airplane message (“make some spike proteins please”) to my ribosome. She isn’t actually changing any messages I’ve sent, but she is changing my instructions. I might have requisitioned three X proteins and five Y proteins, and now I’m getting three X proteins, some spike proteins, and five Y proteins.

I don’t know why Gainesville guy has a problem with that, but it does kind of make sense to me to say the vaccine ‘changes your RNA’. It’s changing my messaging.

Every news report I have read implies that I misunderstand something. For example, this is from Orlando-6 which rated Gainesville guy’s claim “not true”:

News 6 brought that claim to University of South Florida Epidemiologist Dr. Jason Salemi and Pediatric Pulmonologist Dr. Akinyemi Ajayi who both agree, it’s just not true.

“A lot of people are saying, ‘I’m not getting the vaccine because it will alter my DNA and RNA.’ No, the mRNA breaks down quickly after entering people’s cells and is unable to alter your DNA,” said Salemi.

“it doesn’t change it at all. The interesting thing about the vaccine is all it does is injecting you with a recipe that teaches your body how to create an antibody. The moment your body creates the antibody, the first thing it does is it destroys the recipe. It doesn’t enter the nucleus,” said Ajayi.

RNA also lives in the nucleus and is unaffected by the vaccine, according to Ajayi.

I don’t know if those scientists were presented with the specific question of whether RNA vaccines change your RNA. When Dr. Ajayi says RNA lives in the nucleus that really confuses me - if RNA is only found in the nucleus and RNA from vaccines break down without ever breaching the nucleus (per CDC) how does the vaccine even work? I clearly misunderstand something important here.



Understanding mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines | CDC?

They do not affect or interact with our DNA in any way.

  • mRNA never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA (genetic material) is kept.
  • The cell breaks down and gets rid of the mRNA soon after it is finished using the instructions.


Caveat: I Am Not A Biologist.

My layman’s understanding:

Your RNA isn’t being changed. Your RNA is produced in the nuclei of your cells. They’re still all producing exactly the same RNA, including exactly the same mRNA, before and after you receive an mRNA vaccine. Your cells’ nuclei are all still sending out the same messages on the same paper airplanes.

All the vaccine does is wing in a few extra messages on a few extra paper airplanes. Once you’ve read those extra messages, those extra “paper airplanes” disintegrate, and the messages disappear.

The foreign mRNA is basically a one-shot message delivery system. It doesn’t replicate.

Meanwhile, your own cells’ nuclei have been sending out the exact same messages via mRNA the entire time, and continue to do so. You briefly had some extra, foreign mRNA floating around, but your mRNA never changed.

ETA: your organelles are getting a few extra mRNA “paper airplanes” that were injected by the vaccine, but they’re also still getting the same mRNA messages from your cells’ nuclei. Your cells’ organelles get a constant stream of mRNA messages. The vaccines just insert a few extra one-time messages into that stream.

You described it quite well. Your genetic material is made up of DNA that resides in the nuclei of your cells. The code in your DNA is transcribed into messenger RNA (mRNA). When a gene is being transcribed, many mRNA molecules can be produced. These mRNA molecules take the message out of the nucleus to ribosomes. The ribosomes are like factories that use the message in the mRNA to put together proteins. This process is known as translation.

The mRNA vaccines are simply mRNA molecules encased in lipid particles that code for the spike protein. They do not change the mRNA transcribed from your DNA. They are separate mRNA molecules. Your ribosomes don’t know the difference. They’ll translate vaccine mRNA and translate mRNA from your nucleus.

By the way, viruses also must use your ribosomes to translate their proteins. This is why they are not considered to be “alive” under certain definitions of life.

Also note that all RNA, that in the vaccine as well as that produced naturally by your body, is naturally short-lasting. Within a few days after the shot, not only will you not have any vaccine RNA left in you, but you also won’t have any of the other RNA strands you had at that moment (though you will have a bunch of brand-new copies of the natural ones, newly transcribed from the more durable DNA).

That is not really true. Although it is commonly asserted that RNA breaks down rapidly, in fact nucleic acids can be quite resilient provided they aren’t in the presence of strong solvents or UV-C light, hence why people can sometimes present as positive to an rtPCR test for many weeks post-infection, particularly at the high cycle threshold rates being used to improve sensitivity. This is actually a huge problems in genetic testing and experimental labs because of the potential for cross-contamination. You are likely to have fragments of viral RNA from a vaccine or infection still floating around in your bloodstream for months, but of course they are inert molecules that aren’t going to magically integrate into your genome.

There are viruses that can integrate their genome into your chromosomes; as a class these are known as retroviruses which produce DNA using a reverse transcriptase and then inject the DNA sequence into the host’s chromosomes via an integrase (enzyme that exposes and stitches in the viral DNA). The most famous retrovirus is, of course, HIV, but there a vast array of retroviruses, many of which have played significant role in the evolution of life on Earth, and are being used in experimental trials of genetic therapies to correct genetic defects or destroy tumor cells, and the trials of these are very careful because of their potential to produce adverse genetic defects (has actually happened in a few trials so far). It should be understood that retroviruses don’t just change all of the genomes in your entire body; just in the cells that they infect, which makes delivery a limitation when it comes to gene therapies.

However, this has nothing to do with how vaccines work, and mRNA vaccines in particular—which only contain only targeted protein coding sequences and not any material to create or regulate enzymes—literally cannot reproduce or alter gene function the way ‘live attenuated’ or improperly deactivated viral vector vaccines have on occasion in the past. Far from mRNA technology being more dangerous, it offers the potential of highly targeted immune response with a very low chance of adverse reactions compared to conventional methods of vaccine production.


XKCD explains it pretty well:

My analogy from this thread in April is similar to yours:

Here’s an analogy: DNA is a printing press. mRNA is a page of written instructions printed from that press. The ribosome is the construction worker handed those instructions. The mRNA vaccine means that you take pages of instructions printed on someone else’s press and hand them to the construction worker, who then builds the spike protein. But the page of written instructions do not and can not land of top of the printing press and modify it any more than a real piece of paper laid on top of a real printing press can rebuild it. The only situation in which the prospect isn’t transparently idiotic on its face is for people with no understanding of genetics.

The main concern about your version is that you say just “RNA”. There are multiple types and you need to specify that it is mRNA, messenger RNA.

With traditional vaccines, you are injected with broken bits from a dead virus that allow your body to come up with an immune response before you are exposed to the active virus. With mRNA vaccines, you are injected with the instructions for your own cells to build their own copies of the broken bits of dead virus instead.

The analogy I read was, “Yes, the mRNA vaccines do change your RNA… and eating a cookie changes your blood sugar.”

Can someone clear up a question for me: does your body actually store RNA (any variety) at all?

That is, does it even make sense to talk about “your RNA” like you would talk about “your DNA”?

My understanding was that mRNA (in particular) was a product of your DNA so unless your DNA changed the idea of “your RNA” changing is rather meaningless, and all the mRNA vaccines do is add to the amount of mRNA in your body for some short period of time. But maybe I’m missing something and your body does in fact have a “store” of RNA somewhere.

Your body stores instructions for producing mRNA, in the DNA in your cells’ nuclei.

As a layman, it makes sense to me to talk about the mRNA that’s produced in your cells’ nuclei as “your” mRNA, and the mRNA that a vaccine introduces as foreign, “not-your” mRNA.

So, it would be correct to say that “your mRNA” cannot be changed, right? It can be added to (like with the vaccines) but not changed.

I guess the folks making this “change your RNA” claim are saying that “your mRNA” + “vaccine mRNA” = “changed mRNA”. But, if I’m reading correctly, this state is eradicated rather quickly, and at that point you are back to “your mRNA” again, right?


mRNA is intentionally ephemeral. It is formed to transcribe a portion of the cell’s DNA as a blueprint to form a particular protein. It moves out of the nucleus to the endoplasmic reticulum, which is the cell’s protein factory, which it programs to create the desired protein.

After that it degrades and its constituent molecules are returned to the cell’s raw material bin.

That is a non-simple question with a non-simple answer. You should read this below link, but partially it comes down to your meaning of “store.” RNA can act both as an information storage medium and a structural element. Ribosomes and the little machines that hold amino acids that are to be assembled into proteins are made primarily of rRNA and tRNA, respectively. Those could be considered “stored”, in the way engines are “stored” in cars.

Very helpful, thank you. This stuff gets glossed over in high-school level biology, so it’s easy to see why folks get confused about what the various types of RNA are and what they do.

It seems to me that rRNA and tRNA, while involved in the process, are not really relevant to these vaccine claims, correct? And there isn’t any mechanism by which an mRNA vaccine could “change” rRNA or tRNA?

According to this, the half-life of mRNA varies according to various factors, but the median is around 10 hours.

Right, and right.

(Of course, to be pedantic, somebody could theoretically some day design mRNA injections that instruct for proteins designed to make specific alterations to the genome, including the genes producing RNAs. So there is–in a literal sense–a mechanism.)

(As for what is taught in high school, there are classes of RNA that weren’t even discovered yet when I was in high school/college. There might still be some today.)

And correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that we constantly, from before we’re born until our corpses are thoroughly decomposed, are chock full of foreign mRNA from all the microorganisms that live inside us. This just happens to be a deliberately-engineered source of foreign mRNA.

Okay, that makes sense and clears up part of what the doctors were saying in the article I quoted. However it still makes sense to me to say, by letting a foreign entity issue their own messages to my cell machinery you are changing my messaging, even though no individual messages I sent have been modified. It’s like if I have a pile of papers and you sneak one of yours in, I would still say you have changed my papers even though you didn’t actually change any individual paper I wrote.

There are like millions of ribosomes so it’s not like a couple extra messages are going to cause a backup on protein processing. I have no idea why Gainesville guy had a problem with changing RNA. If the vaccine did cause such a backup that affects cell function surely we would have noticed by now.