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A claim that a Swedish study of COVID-19 mRNA vaccine activity found it changed DNA is false. Image by AAP IMAGES

A Swedish study did not say COVID vaccine changes human DNA

Nik Dirga March 17, 2022

A university study shows that the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine enters the nucleus of a human cell.


False. The study authors said this was not the finding of their work, which examined if mRNA from the vaccine could be changed into DNA in liver cancer cells.

A video being shared on social media claims that a recent study from a Swedish university shows that the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine enters the nucleus of human cells and changes a person’s DNA.

The study, however, has been widely misrepresented. The authors of the study made no finding that the vaccine has any effect on a person’s genome and genetic researchers elsewhere have said the study is being distorted.

The claim is made In a video interview on a self-described “controversial” US podcast called “Flyover Conservatives”, which says it examines events “through the lens of Conservative, Christian values”. The guest, American cardiologist Peter McCullough claims that “… a paper by Alden and colleagues, from Lund University in Sweden, in human hepatic cell lines has demonstrated that in fact the vaccine, the genetic code for the spike protein, doesn’t just stay in the cytosol in the rough endoplasmic reticulum, in fact it goes into the human nucleus. And the belief is that it’s a permanent installation into human DNA” (video mark 2min 8sec).

Dr McCullough has been repeatedly fact checked by other media over the sharing of COVID misinformation. He was sued by a former employer for using their name while continuing to promote controversial COVID theories.

The Lund University study, titled Intracellular Reverse Transcription of Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 mRNA Vaccine BNT162b2 In Vitro in Human Liver Cell Line, explores how the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID vaccine could affect human liver cancer cells in petri dishes in laboratory conditions. The introduction of the study states that the authors “aim to examine the effect of BNT162b2 (also known as the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for COVID) on a human liver cell line in vitro and investigate if BNT162b2 can be reverse transcribed into DNA through endogenous mechanisms.”

Reverse transcription is the process in cells through which an enzyme makes a copy of DNA (the molecule which carries genetic instructions in living organisms) from RNA (a similar molecule that can perform various tasks in regular genetic function or disease). For example, HIV uses reverse transcription to convert its RNA into viral DNA.

Endogenous means produced within an organ and cell line refers to cells specifically used for research purposes. Huh7, the cell line used in this study, derives from liver cancer tissue taken from a Japanese man in 1982.

The Pfizer vaccine uses messenger RNA (mRNA) technology. The mRNA vaccines cause the body to make a “spike protein” that triggers an immune response, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They do not alter your DNA, the Australian Department of Health and many other health authorities have repeatedly stated.

Experts point out that mRNA cannot enter the nucleus of a cell where DNA is stored. Claims about the Lund University study since its publication in late February have quickly been shared around the internet by organisations including the Epoch Times and then amplified on other sites.

A sentence that has been taken from Section 4 of the study and shared repeatedly online states: “Our study shows that BNT162b2 can be reverse transcribed to DNA in liver cell line Huh7, and this may give rise to the concern if BNT162b2-derived DNA may be integrated into the host genome and affect the integrity of genomic DNA, which may potentially mediate genotoxic side effects”. The phrase “genotoxic side effects” has been highlighted in bold font.

The viral posts omit the next sentence, which explicitly states, “At this stage, we do not know if DNA reverse transcribed from BNT162b2 is integrated into the cell genome.”

Dr Rhys Parry, a research fellow at the University of Queensland who studies viral evolution, said the study has been misinterpreted.

“The claim made on social media is false, and distorts the findings from the study,” he said in an email to AAP FactCheck.

“The Lund study does not show that the vaccine mRNA enters the human nucleus at all. It only shows that reverse transcription of the mRNA has happened.”

Two authors of the Lund University study, Associate Professor Yang de Marinis and Professor Magnus Rasmussen, have also released a Q&A in response to the attention their work has generated on social media.

“The results have in many cases been misinterpreted,” they said.

“This study does not investigate whether the Pfizer vaccine alters our genome,” de Marinis confirmed.

Prof Rasmussen also stated: “There is no reason for anyone to change their decision to take the vaccine based on this study.”

The study was conducted in a laboratory on cells in a petri dish, which is not the same as a study on human subjects because “cell lines differ from cells in living organisms,” Rasmussen wrote.

Dr Parry also said the Huh7 cell line is very different from healthy human cells.

“Huh-7 is an immortal, tumorigenic cell line,” he said. “This is barely an appropriate system to make any claims of in healthy persons.”

Other medical experts took issue with the Lund study’s limited scope and results, including use of the Huh7 cell line, in an interview with the ABC.

Dr Parry said the study did seem to show that DNA was converted from the vaccine through reverse transcription into the liver cancer cell line system samples but it did not present evidence of it entering the cell nucleus as Dr McCullough claims in the video.

False claims that the COVID vaccines change DNA have been circulating for some time, and several have been previously debunked by AAP FactCheck here, here and here.

The Verdict

A study into whether the mRNA Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine may convert into DNA by reverse transcription was conducted on liver cancer cells in an in-vitro experiment. While the study found some evidence this might occur, the study does not show the change claimed by Peter McCullough and does not show a process that occurs in living subjects. The study’s authors and experts spoken to by AAP FactCheck say the research has been widely misunderstood and did not investigate or prove that the Pfizer vaccine alters human DNA.

False – The claim is inaccurate.

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