US denounces Russian 'disinformation' over Covid vaccines

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A UN relief worker in the Gaza Strip on March 3, 2021 prepares a dose of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, which US intelligence has accused Moscow of seeking to promote through disinformation against US alternatives

The United States on Monday denounced what it called a Russian disinformation campaign against US-made Covid-19 vaccines, saying Moscow was putting lives at risk.

The Global Engagement Center, an arm of the State Department whose activities include monitoring foreign propaganda, said that Russian intelligence was behind four online platforms involved in a campaign.

The sites have "included disinformation about two of the vaccines that have now been approved by the FDA in this country," State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters, referring to the US Food and Drug Administration.

"It is very clear that Russia is up to its old tricks, and in doing so is potentially putting people at risk by spreading disinformation about vaccines that we know to be saving lives every day," Price said.

The Wall Street Journal first reported on the Global Engagement Center's findings, which said that the websites played up risks of the US-made Pfizer vaccine in an apparent bid to boost Russia's homegrown Sputnik V.

In an assessment provided last year to AFP, the Global Engagement Center said that thousands of Russian-linked social media accounts have run a coordinated campaign to undermine official narratives on Covid-19 including by spreading allegations of US involvement.

The center found that China briefly made a similar effort but ultimately decided it made more traction by highlighting Beijing's own efforts.

US intelligence has long suspected Russia in disinformation campaigns on health, including spreading the myth in the 1980s that US scientists created the HIV virus that causes AIDS.