Can COVID vaccine alter your DNA, is it safe for pregnant women? Fact-checking fears and myths

Written by Amy Ta, produced by Bennett Purser

Five new mass vaccination sites are opening today in LA County: the Forum in Inglewood, the Pomona Fairplex, Cal State Northridge, the LA County Office of Education in Downey, and Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia. 

Supervisor Hilda Solis issued an executive order on Monday, saying Angelenos ages 65 and up can start getting vaccinated on Thursday, and promising that a registration website will be launched sometime before then. 

LA County is still working through the first priority group — frontline health care workers. But many of these workers, plus county firefighters, have turned down the vaccine.

Since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, there’s been plenty of misinformation and conspiracy theories about the virus and vaccines. 

KCRW dispels the myths and rumors with Rita Shane, Vice President and Chief Pharmacy Officer at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in LA. They’ve been vaccinating health care workers since December, and she is receiving her second dose later this week.

Was this vaccine developed too fast to be safe?  

Rita Shane: “It was Operation Warp Speed, which did bring together the greatest minds around the world to work on this. But that being said, prior to the emergency use authorization that was given by the FDA for both vaccines, over 70,000 individuals underwent clinical trials. … Moderna had over 30,000 participants and Pfizer had over 40,000. So we wouldn't have had the emergency use authorization unless there was evidence supporting efficacy and safety. 

… But mRNA, which is a type of vaccine … has been studied for years as a potential important tool to help in not only vaccination, but in fighting diseases such as cancer.”

Does the vaccine change your DNA? 

“mRNA does not enter the actual cell itself where the DNA is kept. It doesn't work that way.”

Why is there so much fear and hesitation?

“I think it's the unknown. I think that the information that's actually publicly available to the CDC is extremely helpful in dispelling some of these concerns. And as we've seen, more and more people around the country get the vaccine — that in itself should also reassure people that there was a safety threshold that had to be met to get the vaccine.

… We see this sometimes with new medications as well. I've been in pharmacy for a long time, and a new medication comes out, and there are early adopters and later adopters. 

… At the end of the day, the risk of COVID is still looming pretty large … not only here in LA County but around the world. And this vaccine offers such a significant advance in terms of helping us harness this pandemic we've been experiencing.”

Should pregnant women be worried about getting this vaccine? 

“The national professional organizations that provide guidance for pregnancy and lactation have issued statements that the vaccine should be offered to pregnant women and to women who are lactating. But that should not be considered a contraindication. And of course, the importance is to have that discussion with the woman's obstetrician. … But the professional societies have come out and said that the vaccines should be offered to women who are pregnant.”

Are pregnant women at a special risk if they get COVID? 

“That is the reason. … So it is a risk-benefit sort of discussion. And the risk of COVID is obviously something we would want to avoid in a pregnant woman.”

Does 95% efficacy still leave a 5% window open for infection? 

“I think 95% efficacy is even better than what we thought it would be. In the initial work that was being done, the threshold of 50%. The fact that we've achieved 95% with getting the second dose — that's really important to know that people need to get both doses — I think that's remarkable. 

We were just thrilled when we saw that data. And I actually reviewed both reports that were filed to the FDA by Moderna and Pfizer, and they're pretty impressive in terms of the outcomes that were achieved in terms of the efficacy.”

How does 95% efficacy compare to other vaccines we normally get?

“I think the efficacy of the flu vaccine is actually not that high. … There are years [when] flu vaccines are made available, and we find that the strain that's available is not necessarily the same strain that we got vaccinated with. Because the vaccination process may not always be consistent with the strain. 

… In some years, it's been 40% effective. … I looked it up. There are years that it's been as low as 10%. … They tracked the data from like 2003 to 2010-2011. It was as low as 10% in 2004 and 2005, and as high as 60% in 2010 to 2011.”

If you get the flu vaccine, are you getting a diluted version of COVID? 

“People with the second dose may get a response of fever and chills. That's been documented with both vaccines. That represents our body's immune system being activated. 

… Think about it as, ‘Oh, no, I'm coming down with COVID.’ That's simply not true. The vaccine does not contain any component that would create COVID. 

However, our body responds. And that immune response is what people are sometimes experiencing, particularly after the second dose. And it's a small percentage. But there are people that do get kind of a fever and chills.”



  • Rita Shane - Vice President and Chief Pharmacy Officer at Cedars-Sinai Hospital