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France probing whether Russia involved in campaign against Pfizer vaccine

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A France security official said Tuesday that authorities were looking into whether Russia was involved in efforts to gather social media influencers for an online campaign aiming to sow doubt in the safety of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. 

The official told The Wall Street Journal that it suspected the Kremlin could be behind a series of emails that several French bloggers said they had received in recent days from a person who claimed to work for the marketing firm, Fazze. 

The security official said the emails, some of which were reviewed by the Journal, have been compared to campaigns by the Internet Research Agency, which has been identified as the Russian firm responsible for the alleged efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. 

The Guardian and Agence France-Presse earlier Tuesday reported on the emails, which have been publicly shared online by French and German YouTubers and influencers who said they had been approached with offers from Fazze. 

Several French health and science YouTubers last week said they had been asked to explain to their followers that “the death rate among the vaccinated with Pfizer is almost 3x higher than the vaccinated by AstraZeneca.” 

The bloggers were reportedly offered money in exchange for publishing links on YouTube, Instagram or TikTok about reports in the French newspaper Le Monde, Reddit and website the Ethical Hacker about a leaked report that Fazze said backed up the claim. 

While The Guardian noted that the pages on Reddit and the Ethical Hacker have been deleted, the Le Monde article details European Medicines Agency data reportedly stolen by Russian hackers and posted on the Dark Web. 

Popular French science YouTuber Léo Grasset posted screenshots of the emails he received on Twitter Monday. 

“Strange. I’ve received a partnership proposal which consists of slamming the Pfizer vaccine in a video,” wrote Grasset, who has 1.2 million subscribers on YouTube.  

“Colossal budget, client wants to remain incognito, and I’d have to hide the sponsorship,” he added. 

The Journal reported that one blogger told French TV that he was offered about $2,500 to create a video disparaging the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has already been approved for emergency use in several countries, including the U.S., U.K. and European Union nations. 

The Journal reported that Fazze had previously listed a London address on its website, which was removed from the internet by Tuesday. 

According to a post on a Russian employment website, Faze is a subsidiary of AdNow, a Moscow-based marketing agency, which did not reply to the Journal’s request for comment. 

The Kremlin also did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment. 

Russia, which has globally distributed its own two-dose Sputnik V vaccine and earlier this month authorized the single-dose Sputnik Light inoculation, has previously denied allegations of promoting disinformation campaigns on Western-made vaccines.

Tags Agence France-Presse BioNTech coronavirus vaccine disinformation campaign European Union France Kremlin Pfizer Russia Sputnik V The Guardian The Wall Street Journal vaccine misinformation

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