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Speakers at DeSantis event share vaccine misinformation

“The vaccine changes your RNA,” one person said. It does not.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at an event in West Palm Beach earlier this month, touting the benefits shown by the Regeneron monoclonal antibody treatment offered at pop-up clinics throughout the state.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at an event in West Palm Beach earlier this month, touting the benefits shown by the Regeneron monoclonal antibody treatment offered at pop-up clinics throughout the state. [ JOE CAVARETTA | South Florida ]
Published Sep. 13
Updated Sep. 13

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis stood silently Monday as employees for the City of Gainesville repeated misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines during a news conference set up by his office.

“The vaccine changes your RNA,” said Darris Friend, who said he’s about a year and a half away from retirement after 22 years with the city.

Another implied that the vaccine could kill her.

“I will not put my children through the possibility of losing another maternal figure in their lives,” said Christine Damm, who has worked for the city for 10 years.

DeSantis shifted his feet in apparent discomfort but did not provide context or correct information as he championed efforts to fight a Gainesville city policy requiring workers to be vaccinated — or lose their jobs.

Related: DeSantis threatens ‘millions’ in fines for cities and counties for vaccine mandates

DeSantis spokesperson Christina Pushaw said questions about why DeSantis didn’t correct the speakers “misses the point” of the news conference.

“The governor has never said the vaccine changes your RNA, and nobody who has seen his 50+ public appearances promoting vaccination throughout Florida this year would think that is the governor’s position,” Pushaw wrote in an email. “The speaker whose remarks included that comment was at the press conference in his capacity as a member of a lawsuit against the city government’s extreme overreach.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has clearly stated that the coronavirus vaccines do not alter a person’s DNA, which has been a concern by some vaccine-hesitant people. And the vaccines have been shown to be overwhelmingly safe.

The vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna are known as messenger RNA vaccines, a new type of vaccine to fight infectious diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Unlike many vaccines, which use a weakened or inactive germ to trigger an immune response, Pfizer’s and Moderna’s coronavirus vaccines do something different. They teach cells to make a protein, or a piece of a protein, to trigger the immune response. That immune response produces antibodies to protect against COVID-19.

The CDC has also said reports of death following COVID-19 vaccination are exceptionally rare — 0.0020 percent — and that those reported deaths don’t necessarily mean the vaccine caused the death. It noted that a small number of people have had extreme allergic reactions or blood clots with low platelets after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine (which does not use messenger RNA technology). The rate of blood clots with low platelets is about 7 per 1 million vaccinated women between 18 and 49 years old, according to the CDC, and it’s even more rare for other age groups.

Sally Alrabaa, an infectious disease specialist at the University of South Florida, said the “whole concept” of the man’s statement is “false and wrong.”

A person’s genetic code is contained in DNA, which is enclosed by a cell’s nucleus. Neither the vaccine nor the virus can penetrate that nucleus or change the DNA. RNA consists of messenger molecules created by DNA.

Because the vaccine can’t change our DNA, it can’t change our RNA, Alrabaa said. The mRNA vaccine delivers a message to the ribosome, which makes proteins, to make the protein that triggers the immune system to produce immunity against the actual virus, she said.

“Frankly, our medical community, who has been tirelessly fighting this deadly infection and pleading with people to protect themselves and their loved ones by getting vaccinated, is disappointed that DeSantis didn’t correct this man to stop deadly misinformation,” Alrabaa said.

Attorney General Ashley Moody applauded after the “The vaccine changes your RNA” comment and appeared to tell the man “good job” as he walked away from the lectern. Moody later noted that Florida officials have told people to “strongly consider” the vaccine.

The comment caught the attention of some prominent politicos, including an adviser to Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat who’s hoping to challenge DeSantis’ re-election next year.

Kevin Cate wrote: “Moments ago, @GovRonDeSantis let someone stand behind the Seal of Florida and say: ‘The vaccine changes your RNA.’ It does not. No corrections. No shame.”

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava also corrected the record: “Fact check: No, the COVID-19 vaccine does not alter your RNA. The vaccine is safe and effective and over 200 million Americans have now received at least one dose.”