Do messenger RNA (mRNA) COVID-19 vaccines instruct cells to produce "non-human" proteins -- spike proteins -- that would stunt the development of children's immune systems? No, that's not true: On the contrary, the purpose of spike proteins produced by mRNA COVID vaccines is to assist in triggering the body's immune system and help the body recognize that COVID does not belong there.
The claim appeared in a video (archived here) posted to Facebook on November 9, 2021. At the start of the video, the speaker, Daniel Nagase -- a Canadian doctor who came under criticism for his approach to treating COVID-19 with ivermectin, a medicine commonly used to treat parasitic diseases in both humans and animals -- says:
This mRNA vaccine is telling cells to produce a non-human protein, the spike protein. Why on earth are you giving children -- whose immune systems are still developing and learning to tell the difference between good cells in the body and bad cells in the body -- why are you telling the cells inside a child's body to produce a non-human protein?
This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:
(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Fri Nov 19 19:13:48 2021 UTC)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has explained that there is no evidence to suggest that spike proteins developed by mRNA COVID-19 vaccines present a risk to those eligible for the vaccines, which are individuals 5 years old and older. The CDC resource "Understanding mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines" explains how mRNA vaccines work:
- First, COVID-19 mRNA vaccines are given in the upper arm muscle. The mRNA will enter the muscle cells and instruct the cells' machinery to produce a harmless piece of what is called the spike protein. The spike protein is found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19. After the protein piece is made, our cells break down the mRNA and remove it.
- Next, our cells display the spike protein piece on their surface. Our immune system recognizes that the protein doesn't belong there. This triggers our immune system to produce antibodies and activate other immune cells to fight off what it thinks is an infection. This is what your body might do to fight off the infection if you got sick with COVID-19.
- At the end of the process, our bodies have learned how to protect against future infection from the virus that causes COVID-19.
Nagase's claim that spike proteins will trigger nefarious effects in children's immune systems is the opposite of the function the proteins actually perform.
Lead Stories reached out to Pfizer and Moderna, developers of two COVID vaccines approved for use in the United States, about the claim. In an email on November 19, 2021, Jerica Pitts, senior director of global media relations at Pfizer, told us:
There is no part of the virus in the vaccine and rather the mRNA targets the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2.
We will update this story with any response from Moderna.