US expects Russia to target Covid-19 vaccine in disinformation campaign

US Special Envoy Lea Gabrielle has said the Kremlin has a track record for disinformation on public health issues

The Kremlin Wall with Spasskaya Tower, left, and St. Basil's Cathedral are reflected in a rainwater on the almost empty Bolshoy Moskvoretsky bridge decorated with red flags prior to celebrating Victory Day in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, May 6, 2020. Russian authorities have decided to reopen all industrial plants and construction sites in the capital starting next week, citing a stable rate of the coronavirus. President Vladimir Putin says it will be up to officials in other regions of the country to determine when it's possible to ease lockdown measures in place since the end of March. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
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The US expects Russia will attempt to erode faith in a future Covid-19 vaccine as part of its disinformation campaign about the virus.

US special envoy Lea Gabrielle told reporters Washington was working with allies to see off a campaign to discredit a possible vaccine.

“The Russian disinformation ecosystem that the Kremlin has helped to build has consistently exploited fear and confusion or just exploited the general lack of understanding of an issue to both create and amplify dangerous narratives,” Ms Gabrielle explained.

She said during previous health emergencies like the Ebola and Zika outbreaks in recent years, Russia had stoked fear and confusion.

“Based on their track record, we do expect there's a high probability that the Russian disinformation eco system will act to undermine faith in a Covid vaccine when it becomes available,” said the head of the Global Engagement Centre, which was set up to counter non-US disinformation.

“We've seen this in the past and they will likely do this by introducing false information of their own and by amplifying local voices that push conspiracy theories."

Governments in North America and Europe have identified a variety of Covid-19 myths being pushed by various actors including China and Iran as well as Russia since the beginning of the outbreak.

They have ranged from the false claims that Covid-19 was produced by the US as a bio-weapon as well as conspiracies that Western governments are using containment measures as a means to control their populations.

Ms Gabrielle also explained that China was looking to deflect blame for the crisis through its own use of propaganda.

US President Donald Trump has frequently directed responsibility for the global pandemic at China and asserted that the disease first spread from a research lab in Wuhan.

“We've now seen concerted efforts by Beijing to push conflicting theories about Covid-19 that are intended to sow doubt, to deflect blame and to create the idea that it may not be possible to know the truth," she said.

The US envoy added that China was also "trying to push the narrative that it's superior to the West in responding to global health crises".