Fact Check-Controversial MIT study does not show that mRNA vaccines alter DNA

A controversial study is being misrepresented on social media as evidence that mRNA COVID-19 vaccines modify your DNA.

The claims relate to a non-peer-reviewed paper published as a pre-print in December 2020 (here). The co-authors, which included two biologists from the respected Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) here , here), claimed that the novel coronavirus could modify human DNA.

The study was heavily criticised by some experts, one of whom called the conclusions “strong, dangerous and largely unsupported” (here).

Despite this, a blog post appeared in March (here) that was reposted with the headline: “MIT & Harvard Study Suggests mRNA Vaccine Might Permanently Alter DNA After All” (here).

The blog author speculated on the paper’s implications for COVID-19 vaccines, although he acknowledged that “this study didn’t show that the RNA from the current vaccines is being integrated into our DNA”.

Rather confusingly, the penultimate paragraph reads: “I am not making the claim that an mRNA vaccine will permanently alter your genomic DNA…[but] I believe this current research validates that this is at least plausible, and most likely probable.”

The blog continues to be shared on social media, with one account writing: “Harvard and MIT have just scientifically demonstrated that mRNA messenger vaccine permanently alters DNA” (here , here). This is not what the pre-print paper said.

The completed, peer-reviewed study was published in May (here) and claimed to reveal why some patients tested positive for COVID-19 long after recovery (here).

But it still proved controversial. The findings were challenged in a study published the following month (here), while the Meedan health desk (here) reported conclusions from two experts stating there was no evidence that mRNA from COVID-19 vaccines would integrate with human DNA (here).

The clinical news outlet MedPage Today also reported concerns that the anti-vaccine community would misconstrue the results to apply to COVID-19 vaccines, even though the authors had stressed the work had no implications for the vaccines or human health (here).

The MIT biologist and study co-author Rudolf Jaenisch told Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News: “We welcome scientific discussions, not politically motivated distortions.” (here)

Ultimately, while the study’s methodology and conclusions are controversial, it never claimed that COVID-19 vaccines would alter human DNA. This is a theory that has been peddled online without evidence since the pandemic began (here , here , here).


Missing context. A controversial study co-authored by MIT biologists did not conclude that COVID-19 vaccines would change the recipient’s DNA.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here .