Russian intelligence agencies have shared false and misleading information to undermine confidence in COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and other drugmakers, according to a report on Sunday.
Four online publications that disseminate vaccine misinformation have been linked to Russian intelligence services, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The report, which quotes an anonymous US official from the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, said the sites do not have a large following, but their false stories could be picked up by other international media.
The sites – identified as New Eastern Outlook, Oriental Review, News Front, and Rebel Inside – point to the risk of side effects from vaccines, question their effectiveness, and claim the process was rushed for approval of Pfizer’s vaccine, the newspaper reported.
“We can say that these outlets are directly linked to Russian intelligence services,” the head of the Global Engagement Center told the newspaper. “They are all owned by foreigners and are based outside of the United States. They vary a lot in scope, tone, audience, but they are all part of the Russian propaganda and disinformation ecosystem.
In addition to the campaign to undermine Western vaccines, Russian state media and government Twitter accounts have amplified concerns about the cost and safety of the Pfizer vaccine, the newspaper reported.
Experts said the effort could be an attempt to promote the sale of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, the outlet reported.
A Kremlin spokesperson denied the allegations.
“That’s rubbish. Russian special services have nothing to do with criticism of vaccines,” Dmitry Peskov told the Journal.
“If we deal with every negative Sputnik V vaccine post as a result of US special service efforts, then we’ll go crazy because we see it every day, every hour and in all the Anglo-Saxon media.