Russia and China have stepped up efforts to discredit Western COVID-19 vaccines and promote their own through vast disinformation campaigns, an EU report warned on Wednesday.
The latest report from the EU External Action Service (EEAS) warned that between December 2020 and April 2021, state-sponsored disinformation around the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified, "targeting in particular Western -developed vaccines."
"Russia and China, in particular, continue to intensively promote their own state-produced vaccines around the world. The so-called "vaccine diplomacy" follows a zero-sum game logic and is combined with disinformation and manipulation efforts to undermine trust in Western-made vaccines, EU institutions and Western/European vaccination strategies," it added.
The two countries are using state-controlled media as well as social media, "including official diplomatic social media accounts", to spread its disinformation, the EEAS said.
Since the beginning of the year, the EEAS has recorded more than 100 cases of pro-Kremlin disinformation claims about vaccination.
It described Russia's efforts as a "whole-of-government approach" involving state authorities, state companies and state mass media aimed at promoting its Sputnik V vaccine and accusing the West of "sabotaging" its jab.
"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," it stated.
Russian authorities, including Sputnik V, have accused the EMA of being biased against its jab and suggested its use would enable the 27-country bloc to accelerate its vaccination campaign. But the manufacturer only submitted the vaccine to the EMA for use in early March.
It has also lashed out against health watchdogs in Slovakia and Brazil who rejected the use of the Sputnik V vaccine citing lack of data on efficacy and quality concerns as "political". Meanwhile, vaccination in Russia is trailing behind the EU.
Beijing meanwhile has focused its vaccine diplomacy on developing countries and the Western Balkans, the EEAS said. State-controlled channels have emphasised "the accessibility and stable supply of Chinese vaccines" while deploying "misleading narratives to sow doubt about the safety of Western vaccines ad the origin of the virus."
The European regulator has so far approved four vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca/Oxford University, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
The rollout of the vaccination strategy was initially hampered by delivery delays from both Pfizer and AstraZeneca — the former having since significantly upped its commitment to the bloc.
Concerns over serious cases of blood clots when using the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson jabs have also led to further delays with some member states stopping the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine use altogether and the remainder restricting it to older age groups.
But some member states including Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have also ordered Russian and/or Chinese-made vaccines.