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Disinformation on the Poor Quality of the Western Vaccines and the Superiority of the Russian Vaccine

Verdict: MOSTLY FALSE

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The information promoted by Aleksandre Qanteladze, a Facebook user, is a classic example of the pro-Russian and the anti-Western disinformation and propaganda. It contains manipulative and false information about the alleged superiority of the Russian Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine vis-à-vis the vaccines produced in the West which are berated for being of poor quality.

In fact, the safety and the efficacy of the Russian vaccine has not yet been confirmed by strict regulatory bodies or the World Health Organisation (WHO) whilst the Western vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson) have their efficacy and safety proven by relevant trials and assessments. Moreover, the efficacy of both Pfizer (95%) and Moderna (94.1%) is higher as compared to the alleged efficacy of Sputnik V (according to Russian claims, it is 91.6%). The other information in Aleksandre Qanteladze’s publication that the USA and European countries stopped using the Western vaccines and started getting in line to purchase the Russian vaccine is also fake. Majority of the Western countries have neither issued an authorisation for the Russian vaccine nor are they going to purchase it, rather they are planning to continue immunisation efforts with the Western vaccine. Mr Qanteladze also writes that apart from the vaccines, Russia is ahead of the USA in the fields of medicine, military technologies and infrastructure. However, the international rankings put the USA above Russia in the aforementioned components. In addition to his disinformation claims, Mr Qanteladze’s post contains pro-Russian propaganda messages in regard to Moldova and Ukraine, international organisations and the domestic political situation in Georgia.

Analysis

Aleksandre Qanteladze, a Facebook user whose opinions are published in such anti-Western and pro-Russian media as Viewpoint and News Front, made a publication of disinformation and propaganda content on 20 February 2021 in regard to the Russian COVID-19 vaccine. However, the publication also contains other messages of anti-Western and pro-Russian propaganda. News Front published this publication on its own website and it was re-posted on saqinformbiuro.wordpress.com which is an alternative platform for publishing News Front’s content.

Claim: The US diplomatic corps has officially appealed to the Russian authorities for the Russian vaccine [Sputnik 5].

Verdict: MANIPULATON OF FACTS

As claimed by Aleksandre Qanteladze, the US diplomatic corps has officially appealed to the Russian authorities and requested the Russian vaccine (meaning Sputnik V). This claim is stated manipulatively and lacks context which misleads the reader.

In fact, there is no such thing as the USA publicly asking the Russian Federation for the Sputnik V vaccine. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorised only three vaccines – Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson and the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the aforementioned three vaccines alone. In addition, Russia has not sent its own vaccine to the FDA for approval and the USA has not made any advance purchase of Sputnik V doses. Supposedly, Mr Qanteladze is referring to the Washington Post’s information stating that given the scarcity of vaccine doses, American diplomats have to ask foreign governments, including that of Russia, for vaccine doses. The Washington Post’s information is based on obtained meeting notes, interviews and documents which are not proven by public and official sources.

In particular, according to the Washington Post, American diplomats serving in countries with a poor medical infrastructure and high coronavirus infection rates are frustrated about the way top officials in Washington are distributing the vaccines. It is also reported that the US State Department accepted the offer of 13 foreign governments to vaccinate US diplomatic personnel with their own supplies of US-made vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer) and the State Department is currently evaluating the same offers from at least eight other countries. In regard to Russia, the Washington Post writes that some State Department employees posted in Russia appealed to Moscow for doses of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine. However, of note is that the Sputnik vaccine has not been approved by the WHO or the CDC and, therefore, the State Department is recommending its employees take it but is permitting them to make their own health decisions. Therefore, Mr Qanteladze’s claim that the American diplomatic corps officially appealed to the Russian authorities and requested the Russian vaccine is manipulative and lacks context since it is about a possible request to use the Sputnik V vaccine only for American diplomats posted in Russia. Moreover, this is information obtained by the Washington Post and it has not been officially confirmed.

Claim: European and American governments admitted their defeat – they acknowledged the superiority, the efficacy and the safety of the Russian vaccine.

Verdict: FAKE NEWS

Aleksandre Qanteladze also claims that European and American governments admitted their defeat – they acknowledged the superiority, the efficacy and the safety of the Russian vaccines and got in the queue to purchase it whilst rejecting all other vaccines on the grounds of their being dangerous and ineffective. All of these claims are false. The USA has not approved the Russian vaccine and, respectively, has not acknowledged its efficacy or safety, let alone its superiority vis-à-vis the other vaccines. In regard to Europe, the EU’s European Medicines Agency (EMA) started a review of the Sputnik V vaccine on 4 March 2021 in order to decide if the benefits outweigh the risks. At the time of Mr Qanteladze’s publication on 20 February 20201, the EMA had not yet started the review of the Russian vaccine, although the start of the review itself is no confirmation of the vaccine’s safety and efficacy. Therefore, in addition to the USA, the EU also does not recognise the efficacy and the safety of the Russian vaccine. At the same time there is no publicised plan that either the USA or the EU have plans to purchase doses of the Russian vaccine or are in the queue to buy. It was reported in the media that despite the EU’s official position that it does not plan purchases of the Russian vaccine, the EU might still purchase the Sputnik V or start its production on EU territory. Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for the Internal Market and Chief of the EU’s Vaccine Task Force, stated that the EU does not need the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine and they will use Europe-produced vaccines for immunisation. This statement proves that the EU currently has no plans to purchase the Russian vaccine. As of today, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer have obtained approval from the EMA. Therefore, it is a lie that Europe and the USA considered all of the other vaccines, except the Russian one, as dangerous and ineffective and rejected them. Prior to the EMA’s potential approval, several European countries use or plan to use Sputnik V, including Belarus, Serbia, Slovakia (Slovakia purchased the Russian Sputnik V which sparked a political crisis and resulted in the resignation of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Healthcare. Vaccination with Sputnik V still has not started), Hungary, Armenia, Montenegro, San Marino and Moldova (Moldova issued authorisation for Sputnik V. Russia and Moldova signed a contract on the delivery of 180,000 Sputnik V doses although Moldova has not received them yet). However, it is also a lie that these countries considered other vaccines as dangerous and ineffective and rejected them (almost all of the aforementioned countries either already use European and American vaccines such as Pfizer and AstraZeneca or have approved them and plan to use them). Of additional note is that several European countries temporarily suspended the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine but later decided to continue its use since the EMA concluded it was safe and effective (for more details, see FactCheck’s article 1, article 2 and article 3). In addition, the USA and European countries have never suspended the use of Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccines.

Claim: Africa, too, rejects European and American vaccines.

Verdict: MANIPULATION OF FACTS

According to Aleksandre Qanteladze’s publication, apart from the USA and European countries, Africa is also rejecting European and American vaccines and is sending them back. This claim is yet another item of misleading information. Many African nations have already started using COVID-19 vaccines whilst most of them are members of the COVAX platform and receive their doses from COVAX, mostly AstraZeneca. For instance, Rwanda also uses the Pfizer vaccine whilst South Africa started a rollout of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine. It is true that some African countries, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Cameroon and the South African Republic temporarily suspended the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, although the African Union still recommends continuing vaccination with AstraZeneca’s vaccines as many African states have not suspended its use. In regard to the South African Republic, it suspended AstraZeneca’s vaccine on the ground of it being less effective vis-à-vis the South African coronavirus variant. South Africa sold its own AstraZeneca does to other African countries which continue administering the vaccine.

In addition, Aleksandre Qanteladze fears that Ukraine plans to take the aforementioned “rejected” European and American vaccines and Georgia may follow suit. It is true that Ukraine uses European and US-made vaccines such as AstraZeneca and Pfizer as does Georgia. However, these vaccines are not “rejected” and this claim is false since the safety and the efficacy of both the AstraZeneca and the Pfizer vaccines are approved by the authoritative regulatory bodies.

Manipulations in regard to Russian and American military and medical capabilities.

Aleksandre Qanteladze’s publication also contains claims that in addition to Russia gaining an edge in the medical field, the USA admitted five years ago that Russia is also ahead of the USA in military technologies. The claim that the Russian COVID-19 vaccine is superior as compared to the American vaccines has no ground whatsoever – the efficacy and the safety of the Sputnik V vaccine has not yet been approved by the authoritative regulatory bodies. In addition, the efficacy of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are 95% and 94.1%, respectively, whilst Russia claims that the efficacy of the Sputnik V is 91.6%. To discredit the US-made COVID-19 vaccines and highlight the superiority of the Sputnik V vaccine is part of the Kremlin’s international propaganda for which the USA blames Russia’s special services. The EU’s East STRATCOM Task Force’s project EUvsDisinfo as well as the European Values Centre for Security Policy also report on such a disinformation campaign. In regard to a comparison of the fields of medicine in general, the USA outranks Russia in the ratings. For instance, see the WHO, Hudson’s Global Resident Index HEALTHindex 21, UNDP Health Index, etc.

In addition, making claims about Russia’s superiority over the USA in terms of military might and militarchy technologies is also part of Russian disinformation/propaganda and, in fact, the authoritative platforms give the USA the top position in the ratings whilst Russia is placed second (for instance, see globalfirepower.com, businessinsider, statista, techtheday).

The world’s top military powers are the countries which are ranked in the highest positions in the Global Firepower Power Index (0.000 meaning the best/mightiest). Together with other factors, the following components are taken into account: stocks of weaponry, diversity of weaponry, natural resources, available industries, manpower and financial stability. Source: Global Firepower. Table: statista.

Aleksandre Qanteladze also claims that Russia is ahead of the USA in terms of infrastructure which is proven by the crisis in Texas when the USA failed to cope with a temperature of -3 degrees whilst Russia does not have problems even at -48. The severe weather has indeed sparked a serious crisis in Texas. Although, comparing -3 in Texas with -48 in Russia is irrelevant since Texas’s climate is much warmer as compared to Russia’s and its infrastructure is not designed for such a low temperature. In regard to the comparison of the infrastructure of the USA and Russia, the ratings of authoritative platforms put the USA much above Russia. For instance, see the World Bank’s Infrastructure Index, Statista, the Kiel Institute for the World Economy and the World Bank’s logistics index.

Total infrastructure quality index (2017 data): The US index is assessed at 5.85 and ranks among the top 10% of the countries with the highest quality infrastructure whilst Russia’s index is 3.98. The dotted line denotes the world median (average) index. The data source: World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index. Table: World Banktcdata360.worldbank.org.

Aleksandre Qanteladze’s pro-Russia and anti-Western propaganda.

Apart from the aforementioned disinformation claims, fake news and manipulations, Aleksandre Qanteladze also promotes other narratives of a pro-Russian and an anti-Western content.

According to Mr Qanteladze, the “local Georgian Dream” which refrained from aggravating relations with Russia was toppled in Moldova and a Romanian Russophobe, who started to make “heated and belligerent statements about Transnistria,” was “enthroned as the Queen” instead. In fact, Moldova’s pro-Russian President Igor Dodon lost the elections to the pro-Western candidate Maya Sandu who became the president as a result of these elections.

Mr Qanteladze’s propaganda also pertains to banning pro-Russian TV channels in Ukraine, the West’s getting Moldova and Ukraine ready to fight against Russia and the West plotting conflicts against Russia for the last two hundred years, including in the Caucasus, as well as his justification of Stalin’s decision to make Georgia a part of the USSR.

In addition, Aleksandre Qanteladze pondered about the West plotting a conflict in Georgia against Russia. In particular, he blamed NATO, the UN, the USA and the EU for trying to stage a “colourful revolution” in Georgia or bring such forces (the opposition) to power which “will gladly sacrifice the Georgian nation as cannon fodder.” The author of the Facebook publication also promoted an item of fake news that the aforementioned organisations threatened the Georgian government with the sanctions in order to achieve this goal. This is not true since officials from NATO, the UN, the EU and the USA have not voiced a threat on imposing sanctions against Georgia.

Of note is that Aleksandre Qanteladze named being “under Russia’s wing” and a close military, political, economic, cultural and religious union with Russia as the only way to save Georgia from “physical destruction and disappearing from the map” at the hands of the “Catholic West” and the “Muslim world.”

For more details on the pro-Russian and the anti-Western narratives discussed in the article, please see Georgia’s Reforms Associates annual Disinfometre Report. Of note is that the disinformation claims given above prove the links between the pro-Russian propaganda and the disinformation targeting the Western vaccines.

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This article was produced as part of Facebook’s Fact-checking Programme. Given the rating, Facebook may impose different restrictions – click here for full information. For information on issuing a correction or to dispute a rating, please see here.


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