EU report takes aim at Russia over vaccine fake news

Health

FILE – In this Feb. 19, 2021 file photo, a doctor prepares a dose of the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine at the Ana Francisca Perez de Leon II public hospital, in Caracas, Venezuela. Brazil’s health regulator rejected on Monday, April 19, 2021, a request from several states to import almost 30 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine, citing safety concerns, prompting criticism from the Russian government. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix, File)

BRUSSELS (AP) — Russia has launched a major campaign using ministries, companies and pro-Kremlin media to promote the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine and spread fake news that the West and the European Union are trying to undermine the shot, an EU agency said in a report Wednesday.

The reportwas compiled by the strategic communications branch of the EU’s European External Action Service, or EEAS, which is essentially the 27-nation bloc’s foreign ministry. It said that part of the campaign is to sow distrust in the European Medicines Agency.

The EMA, which regulates which vaccines and drugs can be put on the EU market, began a rolling review of Sputnik V last month but hasn’t yet approved its use.

“The Russian campaign to promote the Sputnik V vaccine has accelerated and developed into a whole-of-government approach including state authorities, state companies and state mass media in almost daily interventions,” the report said.

Sputnik V’s official Twitter account reacted to the EU report late Wednesday with a series of tweets, saying the vaccine is the “subject of unfortunate daily information attacks mostly from some EU media that are obvious to any EU citizen.”

“If EEAS believes that any specific information is not accurate, we would appreciate an official letter outlining what specific statements seem to be factually incorrect as we believe that all statements by Sputnik V are factually correct,” another tweet said.

Last month, the Kremlin rejected similar accusations by U.S. officials and said that Russia has never been involved in any disinformation campaigns targeting other countries’ COVID-19 vaccines.

The report, on virus-linked disinformation seen between December and April, said that Russian officials “also engage in antagonistic messaging, using disinformation to accuse the West and the EU of sabotaging the Russian vaccine.”

The EU’s disinformation experts accused pro-Kremlin media outlets, including the official Sputnik V Twitter account, of trying to “undermine public trust” in the EMA and “cast doubt on its procedures and political impartiality.”

The plan, the report said, appeared to be “to undermine and fragment the common European approach of securing vaccine supplies.”

When the EMA announced that it was studying the Russian vaccine in early March, the agency said that while it couldn’t predict how long the process would take, “it should take less time than normal to evaluate an eventual application because of the work done during the rolling review.”

The disinformation report said pro-Kremlin media is trying to spread allegations that the EMA is postponing the review.

The European Commission, which has been securing contracts with vaccine makers on behalf of EU countries, doesn’t intend to order Sputnik V, but Germany’s health minister said earlier this month that Berlin plans to hold talks with Russia to see whether an individual order might make sense.

Elsewhere in the EU, Hungary in February became the first country in the bloc to start using Sputnik V and China’s Sinopharm vaccine, neither of which has been approved by the EMA.

Last month, Slovakia’s government collapsed after its former prime minister orchestrated a secret deal to buy 2 million Sputnik V doses, despite disagreements with his coalition partners.

The lack of EMA approval leaves any governments choosing to use Sputnik V more legally exposed in case of any problems with the shots.

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Daria Litvinova contributed to this report from Moscow.

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