For the first time since March, the EU drug agency EMA approved a corona vaccine again on Monday.

Is this approval now a turning point in the ongoing dispute over the effectiveness and the alleged dangers of the previous vaccines against Covid-19?

At the very least, vaccine number five adds to the choice.

Thiemo Heeg

Editor in business.

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Werner Mussler

Business correspondent in Brussels.

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The preparation from the American biotech manufacturer Novavax is based on a different active technology than the mRNA vaccines from Biontech / Pfizer and Moderna, which were approved a year ago, and the vector vaccines from Astra-Zeneca and Johnson & Johnson, which were released shortly afterwards.

The fact that the Novavax drug called Nuvaxovid is often referred to as the “vaccine for vaccine skeptics” has to do with this, among other things.

The new preparation is based on virus proteins.

A few micrograms of a selected protein from SARS-CoV-2 are generated for the vaccine.

This protein is not obtained directly from the coronavirus, but is genetically engineered in insect cell cultures.

The company itself speaks of a nanoparticle technology.

Because the immune response is weaker with such protein vaccines, an active enhancer is added - in the technical jargon "adjuvant", which in the case of Nuvaxovid is based on saponins. It alerts the immune system immediately after the vaccination, which then becomes particularly attentive to the injected exogenous protein. As with all other vaccinations, the body's own defenses are set in motion, which can then fight the actual coronaviruses with specific antibodies and T cells.

Some vaccine skeptics regard the Novavax preparation as a hope for hope because it is a so-called dead vaccine, ie a "traditional" vaccine, as it - unlike mRNA preparations - was used in the past. Whether Nuvaxovid can really be classified as a dead vaccine depends on the definition. According to an explanation by the Federal Ministry of Research, live vaccines contain pathogens that can reproduce, ie are “viable”, but whose disease-causing properties have been “bred out”. These so-called attenuated pathogens are contained in vaccines against mumps, measles and rubella.

In contrast, according to this formulation specification, dead vaccines contain killed, i.e. no longer capable of reproducing pathogens.

"This also includes vaccines that only contain components or individual molecules of these pathogens," states the ministry.

Depending on the type of production and the degree of purification, one speaks of whole virus, split or subunit vaccines.

Examples are vaccines against hepatitis A (whole virus) and influenza (split and subunit vaccines).

"The name is wrong"

In the strict sense, Nuvaxovid is not a dead vaccine.

Because the crucial component that is supposed to trigger the immune response was not taken from the coronavirus, but is a genetically engineered virus protein.

Anyone widening the term could say: All vaccines without live pathogens are dead vaccines.

Of course, this would also include all Covid 19 vaccines that have been approved on the market to date.

"The name is wrong," says Carsten Watzl, Secretary General of the German Society for Immunology.

What many mean by “dead vaccine” are vaccines based on principles that are also used in other vaccinations.

Experts know that vaccines with virus protein have proven their worth even before the coronavirus - against hepatitis B and flu, among other things. This is one of the reasons why the Novavax drug is considered by some vaccine skeptics to be the drug of choice. This is even more true of the vaccine from the Franco-Austrian company Valneva. Its vaccine VLA2001 is based on inactivated complete SARS-CoV-2 viruses. The Valneva preparation, like the vaccine from the French manufacturer Sanofi, which is based on a similar technology, is still being tested for risks and efficacy in the “Rolling Review”.

In principle, these “alternative” vaccines - as well as the existing ones - have proven to be effective.

However, experts do not recommend waiting for the vaccine, but rather to get vaccinated immediately with a view to Omikron.

Even Valneva's management stated in an interview that they would not advise anyone to wait for their in-house vaccine.