Ultracold temperatures protect the potency of COVID-19 vaccine

CLAIM: Any vaccine that needs to be shipped and stored at -80 degrees “isn’t a vaccine” but a “transfection agent” that will infect your cells and transfer genetic material causing “genetic manipulation” on a massive scale.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Two of the leading COVID-19 vaccine candidates use a new vaccine technology messenger RNA, or mRNA, requiring them to be preserved in cold temperatures since warmer temperatures could degrade their potency. The vaccine can’t cause genetic manipulation since the mRNA molecule can’t integrate into the human genome.

THE FACTS: This week, a widely shared tweet falsely claimed that because a COVID-19 vaccine is stored at ultracold temperatures it is not a vaccine, but rather a transfection agent used to genetically modify human beings.

“Any vaccine that needs to be shipped and stored at -80 degrees isn’t a vaccine. It’s a transfection agent, kept alive so it can infect your cells and transfer genetic material. Don’t let them fool you. This is genetic manipulation of humans on a massive scale. Shut it down,” the tweet falsely stated.

Both of the leading vaccine candidates are created with messenger mRNA. The vaccine delivers a piece of mRNA into cells, which causes the cells to temporarily produce a protein that resembles one of the viral proteins that make up SARS-CoV-2.

“There is no mechanism by which mRNA molecules introduced into human cells would modify the DNA of those cells, and just as importantly, this has never been observed,” Brent Stockwell, a professor of biological sciences and chemistry at Columbia University, said in an email.

According to Deborah Fuller, a professor of microbiology at the University of Washington School of Medicine: “mRNA vaccines can’t integrate into the human genome so there is no possibility of genetic manipulation of humans. mRNA vaccines deliver their code to the cell and once the cell translates that into a vaccine, the mRNA vaccine is degraded and disappears.”

One vaccine candidate is from Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech. According to Pfizer, the vaccine is 95% effective and should be stored at an ultracold temperature of -70 degrees Celsius or –94 degrees Fahrenheit. Pfizer said it has developed shipping containers that use dry ice and GPS-enabled sensors will allow the company to track each shipment to ensure it stays cold.

Competitor Moderna Inc. also announced that its own COVID-19 vaccine is more than 94.5% effective, and is stable at standard freezer temperatures of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius or 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 days.

Posts claiming that the vaccines are not real vaccines due to being stored in cold temperatures are “completely untrue,” said Julie Swann, a professor at North Carolina State University, who heads the department of industrial and systems engineering. Swann’s research has focused on how health systems operate.

“The reason it has to be stored at such a cold temperature is because of the technology used for this particular vaccine, and that they cannot guarantee it keeps its potency if it is warmer for longer periods,” Swann told The Associated Press in an email. Many vaccines are stored and transported in frozen temperatures, including the Ebola vaccine which was stored at temperatures as low as -80 degrees Celsius.

The AP has debunked similar false claims that said mRNA vaccines can alter DNA.


This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program:

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