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Correcting this week’s misinformation: week of April 20, 2023

Food, now with mRNA

The Claim:

A lawyer has taken to Twitter claiming that mRNA vaccines will change your DNA and that they aren’t even vaccines.

The Facts:

While some forms of mRNA technology are used for gene therapy, mRNA vaccine technology, such as some COVID vaccines, does not. So what is mRNA and how is it used in vaccines?

DNA is the whole of the genetic instructions for the development, functioning, and growth of every system in your body. It is housed in the cell’s nucleus (and in almost every cell in your body) which is surrounded by a nuclear membrane, separating the DNA from the rest of the cell.

Since DNA is kept separate, messenger RNA (mRNA) is produced to bring individual instructions to the rest of the cell. The mRNA can cross the nuclear membrane through the pores that allow for selective transport into and out of the nucleus. Generally, mRNA can exit but cannot re-enter the nucleus. Before it exits the nucleus, it is essentially given a one-way ticket that allows it through the membrane, and as it passes through, that ticket is removed, so it cannot re-enter the nucleus. It’s the opposite of Hotel California.

The mRNA vaccine does not have a ticket to enter any cell’s nucleus. Without a ticket, it isn’t getting to anyone’s DNA and it certainly isn’t changing it.

But did they change the definition of vaccination in order to sneak in fake mRNA vaccines and trick us all? The definition was changed in 2018 (prior to COVID and its vaccines), but those changes were to increase understanding of what vaccines do. The former wording, “a product that stimulates a person’s immune system to produce immunity to a specific disease, protecting the person from that disease,” could incorrectly imply that all vaccines are 100% effective in preventing disease. No vaccine protects against disease 100% of the time.

The new definition, “a preparation that is used to stimulate the body’s immune response against diseases,” much more accurately describes what vaccines do. This isn’t trickery. We have always known that some small percentage of people receiving vaccines could still be sickened by a disease, but that their course of illness would likely be milder. See: influenza or even measles.

Vitamin K is okay

The Claim:

A self-described “conspiracy realist” has posted a long diatribe against Vitamin K injections, claiming that they are unsafe to give to infants and could cause harm to their liver and neurology.

The Facts:

While the vitamin K shot is not a vaccine, it often comes up in vaccine conversations because it’s injected, much like other vaccines are. Vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB) occurs when newborns can’t form clots due to limited amounts of vitamin K in their bodies, which can lead to brain damage and death. A single vitamin K shot can almost entirely reduce the risk of VKDB. The vitamin K shot is estimated to prevent 160 infant deaths for every 100,000 live births.

Vitamin K is a crucial ingredient in forming clotting factors, vital for infants who don’t have any of their own. In adults, however, who are at risk for a stroke or may or may not be on various anti-clotting medications, adding a clotting factor could be disastrous. As such, a black box warning warns of this last situation, where the risks must be considered.

The claim that vitamin K is associated with childhood cancers and leukemia is unfounded. While one study did raise concerns about an intramuscular injection of vitamin K, most subsequent research has not found a link between vitamin K and cancers.

While the dose of vitamin K is high compared to the daily requirement of vitamin K, newborns have little vitamin K until they are close to six months old, so the dose will sustain them until they can start producing it themselves. No known toxicity is associated with high doses of vitamin K. It contains mostly vitamin K. Other ingredients help stabilize and preserve it. Those ingredients are in the injection in very small doses and do not cause harm at those doses.

Polio vaccine, mosquito control, and changing diagnoses

The Claim:

A re-platformed anti-vaxxer has taken to Twitter to claim that polio never went anywhere because both DDT and the vaccine itself caused it. He also claims that the American Medical Association changed the diagnostic criteria for polio to make it seem like it was eliminated.

The Facts:

Polio is a viral infection caused by the poliovirus. The virus was first isolated in 1908 and, in research, was given to a healthy animal subject to show that the virus did cause polio. Two healthy monkeys were injected with spinal cord fluid from a boy who had died of polio; the monkeys subsequently developed polio and died.

While pesticides such as DDT might be associated with neurological effects such as paralysis, which might mirror the side effects of polio, the way polio causes paralysis differs from how a pesticide might. Additionally, DDT was occasionally used in a misguided attempt to stop the spread of polio when some believed it was spread by flies, meaning that the polio outbreaks preceded some of the exposure to DDT.

The peak use of DDT was in 1959, when polio cases started declining, thanks to the polio vaccine.

If DDT and not a virus cause polio, could the tweeter explain how he claims a vaccine made can cause polio but not the wild-type virus? Mixing mythology and science has led him to fallacious logic.

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