Beijing and Moscow have stepped up “state-sponsored disinformation” campaigns denigrating vaccines developed in the West against COVID-19 while promoting their own, the EU said on Wednesday.
“The so-called ‘vaccine diplomacy’ follows a zero-sum game logic” that seeks to “undermine trust in Western-made vaccines, EU institutions and Western/European vaccination strategies,” said a report from the EU’s foreign service, the European External Action Service (EEAS).
Since December last year, Russian media, authorities and state companies have united behind pushing the Sputnik V vaccine while using “antagonistic messaging” to accuse the EU of “sabotaging” the Russian jab, the report said.
“Pro-Kremlin media outlets, including the official Sputnik V Twitter account, have sought to undermine public trust in the European Medicines Agency [EMA] and cast doubt on its procedures and political impartiality,” the report said.
The report said that state-backed media had tried to “sow confusion” over an application for marketing approval by the Russian Sputnik V vaccine in a bid to fuel the narrative that the body had been deliberately delaying giving the greenlight.
“Pro-Kremlin outlets have also accused the EMA and the EU in general of political bias against the Russian-made vaccine,” it said.
Beijing was promoting its vaccines as “more suitable for developing countries,” including those in the Western Balkans, while deploying “misleading narratives” about the safety of Western vaccines and even on the origin of COVID-19, the EU report said.
Sputnik V, the vaccine maker that is financed by Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, hit back at the EU charges on Twitter, writing that it is the target of “unfortunate daily information attacks mostly from some EU media.”
It said it was acting in “the interests of protecting lives around the world and avoiding vaccine monopoly that some vaccine producers may strive for” and said that it was “in positive dialogue with EMA.”
“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,” it added.
The EU’s vaccine rollout has faced widespread criticism from within the bloc as delivery shortfalls hampered early efforts to get jabs into arms. There have also been concerns over the safety of some vaccines — especially AstraZeneca — over links to rare blood clots and some countries have restricted its use.
Brussels insists that deliveries are picking up and the bloc is on target to inoculate 70 percent of adults by the end of July. Nonetheless EU member Hungary broke ranks and has been administering the Russian and Chinese jabs, while Austria and Germany said they are in talks to purchase Sputnik V.
The EMA launched a rolling review of Sputnik V last month. If it receives the regulator’s approval it would be the first non-Western COVID-19 vaccine authorized for use across the 27-nation bloc.
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