Russians spread fake news over Oxford coronavirus vaccine

A Russian disinformation campaign designed to undermine and spread fear about the Oxford University coronavirus vaccine has been exposed by a Times investigation.

The Times published a report on Friday outlining a supposed Russian disinformation campaign “designed to undermine and spread fear about the Oxford University coronavirus vaccine.”

The campaign involves spreading memes and videos suggesting the vaccine, manufactured by a pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca is “a monkey vaccine” that could turn people into monkeys because it uses a chimpanzee virus as a vector, according to the newspaper.

Pictures, memes and video clips depicting the British-made vaccine as dangerous have been devised in Russia and middlemen are now seeking to “seed” the images on social media networks around the world.

The crude theme of the distorted images is that the vaccine, millions of doses of which will be manufactured by the pharmaceutical giant Astrazeneca, could turn people into monkeys because it uses a chimpanzee virus as a vector.

The campaign is being targeted at countries where Russia wants to sell its own “Sputnik V” vaccine, as well as western nations. According to the Times, the campaign was aimed at “countries such as India and Brazil where Russia was trying to market its own vaccine” as well as Western countries that are developing their own vaccines. To date, Russian sovereign wealth fund (or the RDIF), which sponsors the vaccine, said it reached deals to supply Sputnik V to India and Brazil, among others.

Crude images depicting monkeys with captions such as “Monkey vaccine is fine” and similar memes have appeared on Russian state media two days after AstraZeneca announced the pause.

On September 10, Russian state-news agency “RIA Novosti” published an editorial piece titled “Why the West is losing the vaccine race: Russia has been exposed,” which contained four caricatures on the monkey vaccine with English captions.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov dismissed the reaction of the UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to the Times report saying that Russia is engaging in a disinformation campaign to discredit the Oxford University coronavirus vaccine in an effort to promote its own vaccine “Sputnik V”, developed by the Gamaleya Institute.

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