Disinformation around the COVID-19 pandemic, the measures taken to contain it and vaccine roll-out campaigns, continues to be significant, says the updated ‘COVID-19 Disinformation special report’ by the European External Action Service. The objective of this assessment is to provide a snapshot overview of the current trends and insights into disinformation activities related to COVID-19.
Since the last special report, issued in December 2020, the roll-out of different vaccines has gained momentum in many countries around the world, and in conjunction with this, vaccine-related disinformation increased and contributed to spreading fear and mistrust in any type of vaccine.
The report shows how, since the beginning of 2021, state-sponsored disinformation also intensified, targeting in particular Western-developed vaccines. “‘Vaccine diplomacy’ has fully replaced ‘mask diplomacy’,” says the report. It is combined, in particular in Russia and China, with disinformation and manipulation efforts to undermine EU institutions and Western/European vaccination strategies.
Pro-Kremlin disinformation towards the Eastern Partnership countries is tailored to the local situation and is often conveyed in the local language(s). Such specific focus includes: accusing the Ukrainian government of “genocide” over its refusal to buy Sputnik V; praising the Belarusian government’s handling of COVID-19, including its cooperation with Russia and Minsk using and producing the Sputnik V; criticising Georgia for its decision to use COVAX-provided vaccines and not Sputnik V, and accusing Tbilisi of accepting orders from the West.
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