In Brief

Russians spreading fake news about Oxford vaccine

Online disinformation campaign targets countries where Russia’s immunisation jab is being marketed

Russian officials have been involved in spreading false reports that a British-made Covid-19 vaccine in the final stage of testing could turn people into monkeys, an investigation has found.

The injection, developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, uses a virus found in chimpanzees to prime the human immune system with deactivated proteins from the new coronavirus.

The Russian disinformation campaign “has the potential to damage not just the Oxford programme but the wider global effort to protect against the virus by encouraging conspiracy theorists and the anti-vaccination movement”, The Times reports.

The newspaper says it was alerted to the spread of “pictures, memes and video clips depicting the British-made vaccine as dangerous” by a whistle-blower who was “concerned at the damage it would do to public health efforts”.

Along with Western websites, the principal targets were India and Brazil, where the Russian government is attempting to sell its own Covid-19 jab.

Earlier this week, Vladimir Putin “announced the approval of a second new coronavirus vaccine in as many months”, reports NPR, but “neither has completed the kind of extensive and rigorous three-phase trials required in the US” and other Western countries.

Putin said his own daughter has been given the first Russian vaccine, known as Sputnik V, but scientists inside the country and abroad have expressed doubts about the safety of the jab.

A surgeon in Moscow who spoke to CNN on the condition of anonymity said that after being offered the injection, he “called the doctors who deal with vaccinations, I called immunologists. They said, ‘Don't do it, by no means, the vaccine is raw.’”

Although it is unclear who directed the fake news campaign about the UK vaccine, The Times says “there is evidence that some Russian officials were involved in its organisation and dissemination”.

Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, has pointed a finger at the Kremlin.

“Russia is a very centralised state and the idea this would be done without the approval of someone in the inner circle is laughable,” he told Times Radio.

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