ON January 28, 2020, a social media user, identified as Vasco da Gama @ @Vascoda45821757, while responding to a tweet by the Director-General of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus @DrTedros, said that mRNA COVID-19 vaccine causes genetic mutation.
The tweet read, “Please clarify this matter. ‘For the first time in the history of vaccination, the so-called last generation mRNA vaccines intervene directly in the genetic material of the patient and therefore alter the individual genetic material which represents the genetic manipulation…”
Although there was no direct response to the tweet, seven other Twitter accounts liked the comment.
This was not an isolated case. Another social media user, who tweets at BibiDr.Fatma-Zahara Mzalendo Mkweli @FatmaMkweli, did a thread in which part of it contained the exact statement made in the other tweet earlier mentioned.
The account operated by @FatmaMkweli has more than 14,000 followers, most of who are from Tanzania in Africa.
The tweet generated seven retweets and 12 likes. The claim was also found on some other posts on Twitter by different persons.
The false claim began to spread in Nigeria as it was shared in a WhatsApp group that had more than 200 members.
Verifications by this reporter showed that the claims were found on false beliefs and false attributions.
Verification, tracking genesis of the claim
While investigating this claim and the origin, this reporter found out that it had been shared across several social media platforms, including WhatsApp groups in Nigeria.
It has also been in circulation across Facebook and Twitter as well as published on blogs.
Using the Google Advance Search, this reporter checked across various platforms that the claim had been published.
This reporter discovered that the claim was first published on a website called ‘The Platform.’
Also with the use of Twitter Advance Search, the reporter found out that the claims were being shared, liked and commented on.
Searches revealed that the domain of the website was registered in Ireland.
Using the Who.is, an OSINT tool that reveals the details of other websites, this reporter found that the website was registered on January 27, 2020, after the COVID-19 had hit the world.
Also, the About Us section of the website was empty, putting questions on the credibility of the website.
The original article of the misinformation was attributed to Robert F. Kennedy Jr and first published online on 29 October 2020.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is a lawyer, environmentalist and anti-vaccine campaigner. He is also the son of Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of former US president John F. Kennedy.
He is the founder of Children’s Health Defense, a non-profit organisation that says its mission is to end childhood health epidemics.
When this reporter contacted Children’s Health Defense via email, the claim was denied, saying it did not originate from them.
“This is absolutely NOT a quote by RFK Jr. He doesn’t have ‘patients,’ he’s an attorney.
“Children’s Health Defense and RFK Jr. DO NOT advise people medically on any issue. It is up to the individual to make their own decision and to be allowed to hear both the risks and benefits of any medical procedure they are considering,” the Children’s Health Defense wrote in response to an email sent by this reporter.
Can mRNA vaccines alter human DNAs?
An Associate Professor of Genetics in the Department of Cell Biology and Genetics, University of Lagos, Khalid Olajide Adekoya, who spoke with this reporter via a telephone conversation about the claim, said the mRNA vaccine would not cause genetic mutation.
Adekoya said there had not been any fact, justification or experiment that could establish the claim.
He noted that the mRNA vaccines were being administered, and there had not been a reported case of genetic mutation.
“The DNA of the recipient is already ‘stood up’ in the cell and every human body, the number of cells that are there, its figure rate is 10 raised to power 11. They are not the same cell that can easily be changed, that when the gene changes affects another organ directly like that. Most of this information that is displayed, whether it is political or not, they are thinking the vaccine is likely to change the gene of the individual, there is no fact about it,” Adekoya said.
Health organisations’ position
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also said that vaccines produced through mRNA technology do not alter DNA.
The WHO explained that the mRNA vaccines were not live virus vaccines and would not interfere with human DNA.
The WHO Director of Immunisation vaccines and Biologicals Kate O’Brien explained that the process of mRNA helped the immune system recognise the virus and build protein to protect the body from it.
“The vaccine provides the instructions to our own immune system in order to produce the small tiny part that just a very small component of the viral particle against which the immune system will react. That is what these mRNA vaccines are,” O’Brien said.
Also, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the mRNA vaccine would not enter the nucleus of the cell – which is where the DNA (genetic material) is kept.
The Center also noted that the human body cell broke down and got rid of the mRNA soon after it had finished using the instructions.
There are currently two vaccines that are produced through mRNA technology -Moderna and Pfizer.
Also, since administering the vaccine, there has not been a reported case of genetic mutation.
Hence, the claims made in these WhatsApp messages and Twitter posts in Nigeria have been found to be false as there is no evidence to prove that COVID-19 vaccines produced with mRNA technology could change the genetic component of an individual.
This publication was produced as part of IWPR’s Africa Resilience Network (ARN) programme, administered in partnership with the Centre for Information Resilience (CIR), the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), and Africa Uncensored. For more information on ARN, please visit the ARN site.