PARIS – French counter-intelligence authorities are investigating whether the Russian government was behind an attempt to pay top health and science bloggers to cast doubt on the safety of the coronavirus vaccine Pfizer-BioNTech, said a French security official.
and BioNTech SE, which is the most widely used vaccine in France. A blogger told French television that he was offered € 2,050 (about $ 2,500) for a video.
The security official said counter-intelligence authorities suspected the Kremlin of being responsible for the emails. The official compared the emails to campaigns by the Internet Research Agency, a Russian company that US authorities have identified as responsible for Moscow’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election. Western officials said that these operations were an attempt by the Kremlin to undermine public confidence in Western institutions.
The Kremlin did not respond to a request for comment. He previously rejected accusations that Russia was using disinformation campaigns against Western vaccines and denied interfering in the US election.
Fazze listed an address in London on his website, which was deleted on Tuesday. Fazze is not registered as a UK company. A post on a Russian job website describes it as a subsidiary of AdNow, a Moscow-based marketing agency. AdNow did not respond to a request for comment. The now-deleted LinkedIn accounts of Fazze employees show that many were educated at Russian schools, such as the Siberian Transport University.
Skepticism of vaccines is higher in France than in many other Western countries. Polls conducted before the start of France’s vaccination campaign at the end of December showed that up to 60% of the public did not want to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Those fears centered on how quickly vaccines were developed and the fact that some, like the Pfizer vaccine, used new technology that had yet to be deployed outside of clinical trials.
The reluctance decreased as more people were vaccinated, with around 40% of the population receiving at least one dose. Yet France lags behind other European countries when it comes to vaccination of the elderly – 75% of people over 80 are vaccinated against 100% in countries like Spain, Ireland and the United States. Denmark.
Fazze asked bloggers to make false claims that the death rate among people receiving the Pfizer vaccine is three times higher than those receiving the AstraZeneca PLC vaccine.
Drug regulators in Europe have said that the AstraZeneca vaccine in rare cases causes a sometimes fatal blood clotting disorder. Regulators have not identified such disorders produced by the Pfizer vaccine. AstraZeneca did not immediately respond to the request for comment. A spokeswoman for Pfizer said anti-vaccine sentiment and misinformation were on the rise, especially on social media. “We ask that the public carefully consider where they get their information from and examine the credibility of those sources,” she said.
Léo Grasset – a French science blogger whose YouTube account Dirty Biology has 1.2 million subscribers – said he received emails from a Fazze employee named Anton, who sent him a list of written talking points in broken English.
“Ask a question like, ‘Why are some governments actively buying the Pfizer vaccine, which is dangerous to the health of the population,’ ‘an email said.
Mr. Grasset responded to the message by asking who was sponsoring the campaign.
“The client prefers to remain incognito,” said Anton.
The talking points forwarded by Fazze are similar to those posted by Russia on the official Twitter account of Sputnik V, the coronavirus vaccine developed by the Russian government. On April 23, the account said it had conducted a study showing that Pfizer-BioNTech beneficiaries died more frequently than those who received AstraZeneca.
“Sputnik V unequivocally condemns any unethical activity aimed at undermining other vaccines as well as the global immunization effort,” the vaccine developers said.
Write to Matthew Dalton at [email protected]
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