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VERIFY: Yes, COVID vaccines do meet the definition of a vaccine

False information has claimed COVID-19 vaccines aren't real vaccines, that they bypassed testing and that they modify your DNA.

Conspiracy theories on social media have circulated for months regarding the mRNA technology used in the COVID-19 vaccines. Recent claims have emerged that state the vaccines don’t fit the medical definition of vaccines and haven’t passed safety tests. An expert in vaccines explained to VERIFY why those statements are wrong. 

THE QUESTION

Do existing COVID-19 vaccines fail to meet the medical definition of vaccines and can they alter DNA?

THE ANSWER

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services and a vaccinology expert confirm there is no single medical definition of a vaccine, but COVID-19 vaccines meet the generally accepted criteria that requires a vaccine to prevent disease by building immunity.

They cannot change your DNA.

WHY ARE WE VERIFYING

Claims online are spreading misinformation about the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine stemming from confusion around how the vaccine utilizes mRNA to help you build immunity. People have falsely claimed for months that it can alter DNA and are now claiming it’s not even a vaccine.

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WHAT WE FOUND

Many of these claims talk about “the medical definition of a vaccine,” but there isn’t just one single definition. The CDC and the HHS define vaccines as aids to prevent disease.

The CDC’s specific definition says vaccines are “a product that stimulates a person’s immune system to produce immunity to a specific disease, protecting the person from that disease. Vaccines are usually administered through needle injections, but can also be administered by mouth or sprayed into the nose.”

The HHS says on its vaccines.gov website that a vaccine “is made from very small amounts of weak or dead germs that can cause diseases — for example, viruses, bacteria, or toxins. It prepares your body to fight the disease faster and more effectively so you won’t get sick.”

Dr. Daniel Salmon, who is trained in vaccinology and is a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, explained that vaccines are preventive “and a preventative vaccine is something you give to your body that stimulates an immune response, so when you're exposed to the natural infection, your body will already be prepared to respond.”

“Certainly, the COVID vaccines fall into that category of being preventative vaccines,” he added.

He also dismissed the claims that the vaccines will alter a patient's DNA. “People think ‘oh my God, it's gonna change my DNA, or it's somehow altering my DNA,' and that's not the case at all. If you think about it, if you eat an apple, you've just eaten the DNA of an apple, that doesn't mean that it's going to change your DNA, it's certainly not going to turn you into an apple.”

He also made clear that these vaccines — like any other vaccine or new drug — go over several trials before their release to the general population. He said that by the time a vaccine reaches authorization, or emergency authorization in the case of the COVID-19 vaccines, the FDA and external experts have already looked over data from trials. They’ll continue that observation as more people receive the vaccines.

The technology behind the creation of the vaccine has been in development for a decade, he added. It’s not something that happened in the last year.

“I understand that new technologies can create a bit of apprehension, but the technology behind this vaccine has been worked on for over a decade,” he said. “It was created if a pandemic were to emerge, which is exactly where we are. This is the first vaccine using it.”

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