The claim: COVID-19 vaccine recipients are no longer human
Almost two years after COVID-19 vaccines were granted emergency authorization, about 80% of people in the US have received at least one dose, and 68% are considered fully vaccinated by one measure. But vaccine hesitancy and refusal continue, powered in part by misinformation on social media.
Vaccine skeptics frequently (and falsely) claim the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines alter a recipient’s DNA, a persistent claim that USA TODAY has debunked before.
go viral Oct. 9 Instagram post takes this claim further and falsely asserts that those who received a COVID-19 vaccination are technically no longer human. The post was liked more than 5,000 times in a few weeks.
The post features a video that shows social media influencer Maria Zee interviewing lawyer Todd Callender, a vaccine opponent. At one point, Callender says that humans who received the vaccine have had their DNA genetically modified to the point that they are no longer human, but are instead “homoborgensis,” and therefore have no human rights. He claims the term “homoborgensis” comes from a paper published by NASA’s Langley Research Center.
That’s ludicrous on several levels. No such paper from Langley exists, as a spokesperson confirmed the agency does not even do research on mRNA vaccines and DNA. And manufacturers, researchers and health organizations unanimously agree the mRNA technology used in vaccines does not alter DNA – meaning recipients are still very much human.
USA TODAY reached out to Zee and multiple users who shared posts with clips of the interview for comment. One responded by saying he was just raising a question about the claim, not endorsing it.
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No such Langley Research Center paper, says NASA spokesperson
In the viral interview, Callender claims the term “homoborgenesis” comes from a paper on “fifth-generation warfare” from NASA’s Langley Research Center. But NASA has never published such a paper, according to spokesperson April Phillips.
the Langley Research Center focuses on aviation, atmospheric science and space exploration technology, according to its website. A search of NASA’s website found no results for the term “homoborgenesis.”
“There is zero truth to these wacky claims,” Phillips, the news chief for the center, said in an email to USA TODAY. “There is no such paper, and that is not an area of research focus for NASA Langley Research Center. We have no idea how this claim began circulating, but it is patently false.”
mRNA vaccines cannot change DNA
There is also no evidence that COVID-19 mRNA vaccines can interact with or alter the DNA of recipients, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC’s website notes that the genetic material in the mRNA vaccines cannot enter the nucleus of cells, where DNA is found. The mRNA in vaccines is quickly broken down after it teaches the body to make a protein that triggers an immune response to fight COVID-19.
Dr. Paul Offit of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia said in to video that a series of impossible occurrences would have to happen for mRNA to alter DNA. First, the mRNA would need a nuclear signal to be able to get through the nuclear membrane into the nucleus of a cell. Then, it would need to work with the enzyme reverse transcriptase to be converted into DNA. Finally, it would need to use the enzyme integrase to be able to work itself into the DNA. The vaccine contains none of those components.
“The chance of that happening is not small,” he says in the video. “It is zero.”
AFP has also debunked the viral claim.
Our rating: False
Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine are no longer human. There is no NASA research paper that suggests this, contrary to claims by the social media post in question. And the mRNA technology used in COVID-19 vaccines does not and cannot DNA, according to medical experts.
Our fact-check sources:
- USA TODAY, May 28, 2021, Fact check: Modern executive did not say mRNA vaccines alter recipient’s DNA
- USA TODAY, Aug 5, 2021, Fact check: 6 of the most persistent misconceptions about COVID-19 vaccines
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed Oct. 31, COVID Data Tracker: Vaccinations in the US
- april phillipsOct. 19, E-mail exchange with USA TODAY
- Langley Research Center, accessed Oct. 26, About NASA Langley
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed Oct. 26, Myths and Facts about COVID-19 Vaccines
- Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care, May 10, Is it true? Can COVID-19 Vaccines alter my DNA?
- Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Feb. 10, 2021, Can mRNA Vaccines Alter a Person’s DNA?
- AFP, Oct. 12, Video falsely claims vaccinated individuals are no longer human
- NASA, accessed Oct. 25, Search for homoborgenesis
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Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism