EU's Borrell accuses Russia of spreading COVID-19 disinformation to sell its vaccine

FILE PHOTO: Josep Borrell, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, attends a news conference after a European Union Foreign Ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium December 7, 2020. John Thys/Pool via REUTERS

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union’s top diplomat said on Monday that Russian public media had spread false information on European and American COVID-19 vaccines in countries where it wants to sell its own shot against the coronavirus.

“Western vaccine developers are openly mocked on multi-lingual Russian state-controlled media, which has in some cases led to absurd claims that vaccines will turn people into monkeys,” Josep Borrell said in a blog post.

“Such narratives are apparently directed at countries where Russia wants to sell its own vaccine, Sputnik V,” Borrell added, noting that these moves threatened public health amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He gave no specific examples.

Moscow has repeatedly denied these accusations, and alleges that Sputnik V is being targeted by a foreign-backed disinformation campaign.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) which is responsible for marketing the vaccine abroad, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Borrell’s statement. The health ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Roskomnadzor, the Russian media and communications watchdog, also did not respond immediately.

When drugmaker AstraZeneca, which worked with Oxford University on its vaccine, paused a clinical trial in September due to the then unexplained illness of a volunteer, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Sputnik V was more reliable because it was based on an adenovirus found in humans, whereas the British candidate was a “monkey vaccine”.

Trials of the vaccine, which uses a bioengineered version of a harmless common cold virus found in chimpanzees to instruct human cells to make antigens, were resumed in Britain within days after getting the green light from safety watchdogs.

Russia last week dispatched its first batch of coronavirus vaccine to Argentina as part of a 10-million-dose deal. It has signed supply deals with a number of other Latin American and Asian countries. The Russian shot costs less than $20 per person for the necessary two doses.

Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; Additional reporting by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Alison Williams