Only neutralizing antibodies protect against reinfection; Out for Gecko Commission

+++ Only neutralizing antibodies offer protection against new infections – Gecko Commission will be dissolved at the end of March – Biden signs law on the release of secret documents – New information on the origin of the corona: raccoon dogs as carriers? – China approved mRNA vaccine for the first time – WHO chief hopes for the end of the corona pandemic this year +++

For protection against new infections with the coronavirus, it is not just the presence of antibodies that is decisive, but whether these are sufficiently neutralizing antibodies. Only these prevent the virus from docking to human cells, as a research team from MedUni Vienna showed in an overview of the current state of knowledge. The scientists also discovered a previously unknown vulnerability of the virus, according to a broadcast on Monday, March 20th.

Even in a SARS-CoV-2 situation that has now become endemic, mutations of the virus and diseases caused by new variants can still be expected. Although the population has immunity due to past infections and vaccinations, vaccinated and vulnerable people repeatedly contract Covid-19, explained the MedUni. In usual antibody measurements, the properties of the antibodies are usually not differentiated, it said.

A special blood test is required to determine the neutralizing antibodies. Due to the infectious virus, classic virus neutralization tests can only be carried out in a few highly specialized laboratories under strict safety requirements. A simple method was developed at MedUni Vienna’s Center for Pathophysiology, Infectious Diseases and Immunology as early as 2020, with which protection against new infections against different virus variants can be quickly examined. The analysis of the neutralizing antibodies could provide valuable information to determine the timing and selection of the adapted vaccines for booster vaccinations, explained the research team led by Rudolf Valenta.

In another study, the team identified a previously unknown “Achilles’ heel” of SARS-CoV-2 by determining neutralizing antibodies in vaccinated people. It was observed that the ability to defend against viruses is linked to the binding of neutralizing antibodies against a previously unknown epitope, i.e. a specific region on the virus surface. It is noteworthy that this is a part of the virus that has not changed in the different virus variants, i.e. a conserved part. The MedUni emphasized that this is relevant for the production of improved vaccines. Both findings were published in the “International Journal of Molecular Sciences” (; (WHAT)

Gecko Commission will be dissolved at the end of Marcht

The Commission for National COVID Crisis Coordination (GECKO), which was set up in December 2021, will be “orderly” dissolved three months before its mandate expires, namely on March 31. Chancellor Karl Nehammer is thus complying with a majority proposal made by the commission on Monday, March 20th, according to the Chancellor’s Office in the evening. This may have preempted the resignations of some members who had been rumored in advance.

The “Kurier” had reported that the virologist Andreas Bergthaler, the simulation researcher Niki Popper and Major General Thomas Starlinger were about to leave in protest against the government’s line, and Health Minister Johannes Rauch had already published a statement “the resignations from the Gecko Commission” regrets. After Monday’s meeting, however, the Gecko Commission said to the APA: “There is no official exit request.”

Neither the members mentioned nor their chairman Rudolf Striedinger wanted to comment on the rumors of resignation. You don’t necessarily have to discuss it further, “because it didn’t come to that,” Striedinger told “ZiB2”.

The Commission itself – a government advisory body based in the Federal Chancellery – had already proposed its dissolution at the end of March. The mandate would actually have run until the end of June. According to Striedinger, it was seen that the government’s activity as a crisis communication tool was no longer necessary. Crisis coordination is now to be transferred to the regular operations of the departments.

Nehammer and Rauch thanked the experts for their work in advising the government. The commission “did excellent work in a difficult time and helped Austria get through the pandemic well,” Rauch wrote on Twitter, adding: I have always protected science and will continue to do so. Vaccination saves lives. All democratic forces in Austria have a responsibility to say this clearly in the future as well.”

Not only Nehammer’s statement that politicians were “listening to experts” in the corona pandemic is said to have been a reason for displeasure from Gecko members, but also the corona passages in the labor agreement of the ÖVP and FPÖ in Lower Austria. Striedinger did not feel disregarded by politicians: “The Federal Chancellor has always listened to us,” he said, but now the time has come when the judgment has come that the advisory work is no longer necessary. (APA)

Biden signs classified documents declassification bill

US President Joe Biden has passed a law to release secret documents on the origin of the corona pandemic. It is also about “possible connections to the Institute of Virology in (the Chinese city) Wuhan,” Biden said on Monday, March 20. His government will release “as much information as possible”. However, it must be ensured that there is no damage to national security.

“We need to get to the bottom of the origins of Covid-19 to ensure we can better prevent future pandemics,” Biden said. “My government will continue to review all classified information related to the origins of Covid-19, including possible links to the Institute of Virology in Wuhan.”

The corona virus first appeared in the Chinese metropolis in 2019. While many experts see animal-to-human transmission at an animal market in Wuhan as the origin of the pandemic, there is also the theory of a laboratory accident in the city.

In February, several US media reported that the US Department of Energy, which is responsible for overseeing laboratories, now assumes that the corona virus escaped from a Chinese laboratory. The US Federal Police FBI is of the same opinion.

However, the US authorities, including the various secret services, do not agree on their assessments. Some authorities think it’s more likely that the virus was transmitted naturally from animals to humans. The question is also controversial in science.

The topic is also highly charged politically. China regularly and outragedly rejects information about a possible laboratory accident. The virus has killed an estimated seven million people worldwide. The pandemic and the measures taken to contain it have had serious economic and social consequences. (APA/AFP)

New information on the origin of the corona: raccoon dogs as carriers?

According to the Berlin virologist Christian Drosten, preliminary results of a genetic study support the assumption of a natural origin of SARS-CoV-2. The analysis, which has not yet been independently verified, brings raccoon dogs into play in Wuhan, China, as potential carriers of the corona virus. According to The Atlantic magazine, scientists had stumbled across previously unknown Chinese data from the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market.

This market is associated with the first Corona outbreak. The genetic sequences were obtained from swabs taken at and near market stalls at the beginning of the pandemic. A few days ago, researchers at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) added them to the freely accessible genome database “Gisaid” and discovered and analyzed them there – more or less by accident – ​​by scientists in Europe, North America and Australia. “The preliminary result strongly supports my assumption that it originated in raccoon dogs or other carnivores (flesh eaters) such as civet cats, which has been expressed since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Drosten last Friday (March 17).

According to The Atlantic, an evaluation led by virus experts Kristian Andersen, Edward Holmes and Michael Worobey revealed that several market samples that had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 also contained animal genetic material – often from raccoon dogs, a common species on fur farms kept fox relatives. Among other things, from the way the sample was taken, the scientists conclude that a raccoon dog infected with the coronavirus could have been in the affected areas.

“These are preliminary evaluations of Chinese raw data. A comprehensive study by the scientists actually involved in the investigation will certainly follow soon, ”explained Drosten. The new findings are likely to rekindle the debate about the origin of the corona virus. There is also the theory of a laboratory glitch as a possible origin. (APA/dpa)

China approved mRNA vaccine for the first time

Years after the rest of the world, an mRNA vaccine against Covid-19 has now also been approved in China for the first time. The Chinese company CSPC Pharmaceutical received the green light from the Chinese health authorities for its vaccine based on mRNA technology on Wednesday. This makes it the first domestically developed approved vaccine of its kind.

China has so far rejected the use of mRNA vaccines from abroad, although the corona vaccines previously available in the People’s Republic are considered less effective than the mRNA vaccines from Biontech/Pfizer and Moderna. Their use had already been approved in the USA and the EU at the end of 2020/beginning of 2021.

So far, the People’s Republic has only used vaccines that were developed and produced in China, above all Sinovac and Sinopharm. Biontech has not yet been approved in China, although the company signed a license agreement with the Chinese Fosun Pharma in spring 2020 to develop and market the vaccine in China as well.

German citizens living in China have been able to get vaccinated with Biontech since the end of last year after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had campaigned for it. Because the country was confronted with a violent wave of infections at this point in time after the sudden departure from its restrictive zero-Covid policy. In addition, the Chinese in Hong Kong could also have themselves boosted with Biontech.

Corona cases in China are now declining across the country. According to CSPC, the company’s vaccine targets some of the key omicron subvariants and has demonstrated good neutralizing efficacy against variants BA.5, BF.7, BQ.1.1., XBB.1.5 and CH.1.1 in clinical trials as a booster dose .

In the study of 4,000 participants, conducted from December 10 to January 18, the vaccine would have achieved 85.3 percent efficacy in those who had received a protein vaccine as their primary vaccine. CSPC didn’t say how many cans the company plans to make. The Chinese CanSino is also working on an mRNA vaccine. (APA/ag)

WHO chief hopes the corona pandemic will end this year

The number of corona deaths reported weekly was around 5,000 last week for the first time lower than three years ago, when the World Health Organization (WHO) first spoke of a pandemic. This is a positive development, said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last Friday (March 17) in Geneva.

The fact that Tedros uttered the word pandemic for the first time on March 11, 2020 shook the world awake. However, the WHO had already declared the highest alert level six weeks earlier, on January 30, when it declared an emergency of international scope. At the time there were fewer than 100 cases outside of China and no deaths. “I am confident that this year we can say that Covid-19 is over as an emergency of international concern,” said Tedros. (APA/dpa)