Ever since the COVID pandemic began in 2020 and the subsequent vaccination drive started a year later, there has been a spate of misinformation surrounding the genesis, nature, and cure for the disease. In this context, a video of a man, identified as Stefan Oelrich – a member of the Board of Management of Bayer AG and head of the Pharmaceuticals Division, is going viral. Users sharing the video are claiming that Stefan admitted that “mRNA vaccines are gene therapy.” Newschecker found that the video is being shared out of context.
Instagram user @valuetainment, a media/news company, was among the users who posted a screengrab from the viral video with the claim that Oelrich “admits that the COVID-19 vaccine is in fact gene therapy.” The post has received around 4,800 likes so far. The same post can be found on their Facebook page as well.
Link to these posts can be found here and here.
Several other social media users shared posts by Valuetainment, in addition to a video of Oelrich with the same claim.
You can find links to such posts here, here and here.
Understanding Gene Therapy & mRNA Vaccines:
Gene therapy is a method of treating or curing a disease by modifying a person’s genes. As per the FDA, gene therapy can work by several mechanisms such as replacing a disease-causing gene with a healthy copy of the gene, inactivating a disease-causing gene that is not functioning properly or introducing a new or modified gene into the body to help treat a disease. Several studies are underway to treat cancer, genetic diseases, and infectious diseases among others with the help of the same.
On the other hand, mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) vaccine teaches human cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside our bodies, which protects a person from getting sick from that germ in the future.
Though mRNA was discovered decades back, it gained massive popularity among the masses since the launch of several mRNA vaccines against the coronavirus pandemic.
How do mRNA Covid Vaccines work?
An article by CDC on mRNA covid vaccines explains that after vaccination the mRNA enters the muscle cells and uses their machinery to produce a ‘harmless piece’ of spike protein, which is also found on the surface of coronavirus. After the protein piece is made, our cells break down the mRNA and remove it. Following this, the cells display the spike protein piece on their surface and our immune system recognises that the protein does not belong there. Thereby, triggering the 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 if you got sick with COVID-19 At the end of the process, our bodies have learned how to help protect against future infection with the virus that causes COVID-19,” it adds.
Read our other covid-related fact checks here.
Newschecker looked up the official website of Bayer to ascertain whether the man seen in the video is Stefan Oelrich, and by comparing Oelrich ‘s photograph in the biographies section in the website with the keyframes of the clip, we could conclude that they are indeed the same person.
Following this, we conducted a keyword search for “Bayer Stefan Oelrich mRNA World Health Summit” on YouTube which led us to a video by World Health Summit, dated October 25, 2021, with the title ‘KEY 01 – Opening Ceremony – World Health Summit 2021.’
Video shows the opening ceremony of the World Health Summit on October 24, 2021 in Germany’s Berlin. Several high profile dignitaries addressed the event, one of them being the member of the Board of Management and Head of the Pharmaceuticals Division of Bayer AG, Stefan Oelrich.
At the counters of 1:29:40, Stefan can be heard addressing the summit on “innovation,” “health of all” policy, “sustainability” among other things. Speaking on innovation in the industry, he said, “……We’ve seen the vaccines as the perfect example during this crisis, but innovations in the field of biotech also radically upend our view on many other diseases, especially NCDs(Non-communicable diseases). We can now think of curing many of those diseases not just by treating symptoms ….. And for us, therefore we’re really taking that leap- us as a company, Bayer, in the cell or gene therapy, which to me is one of these examples where really we’re going to make a difference hopefully moving forward. There are some- Ultimately the mRNA vaccines are an example for that cell or gene therapy- I always like to say, if we had surveyed two years ago in public, ‘would you be willing to take gene or cell therapy and inject it into your body?’ we would’ve probably had a 95 percent refusal rate. I think this pandemic has also opened many people’s eyes to innovation in the way that was maybe not possible before (sic)” he continues.
Notably, some users claimed that he said “selling gene therapy” when actually said “cell or gene therapy.”
Newschecker reached out to Oliver Renner, Head Pharmaceuticals Communication of Bayer for his comments over an e-mail. He told us, “It was an obvious slip of the tongue. According to Bayer, mRNA is not a gene therapy in the sense of general understanding.”
Are mRNA covid vaccines ‘gene therapy’? Can they alter DNA?
No. Several experts have time and again affirmed that neither do mRNA vaccines alter our genes, nor are they gene therapy. CDC stated, “mRNA from these vaccines do not enter the nucleus of the cell where our DNA (genetic material) is located, so it cannot change or influence our genes.”
An article by UNICEF quotes Dr. Vladimir Jovanovic from the Clinical Centre of Montenegro (KCCG) saying, “The materials that make up the coronavirus vaccine are based on ribonucleic acids (RNA), and when they enter the body, they do not penetrate the nucleus at all, so they do not have a chance of coming into contact with the hereditary material contained in it; therefore, we conclude that vaccination will not cause any harm to the body, especially in terms of changing the structure of the DNA chain.”
Several organisations have clarified that mRNA covid vaccines are not gene therapy. You can read such articles here, here, here and here.
Thus we could conclude that a clip from his address has been extracted to mislead people into believing that Oelrich’s “admitted” about mRNA vaccine being gene therapy.
A clipped part of a longer video is being shared out of context to misled people into believing that Bayer’s top executive Stefan Oelrich admitted that mRNA vaccines are gene therapy. Several experts have confirmed that mRNA vaccines do not alter human DNA.
Result: Missing Context
YouTube Video By World Health Summit, Dated October 25, 2021
Direct Contact With Head Pharmaceuticals Communication, Bayer Via Email On June 24, 2022
Article By CDC
Article By UNICEF
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