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US ran covert anti-vax campaigns during Covid to discredit China

THE UNITED STATES ran online anti-vaccination campaigns at the height of the Covid pandemic to discredit China, a Reuters investigation has revealed.

The news agency’s probe focuses on the Philippines, where a Pentagon-directed operation from 2020-21 set up fake social media accounts which sowed doubt about the effectiveness of China’s Sinovac vaccine — at the time the only one available there — and other forms of life-saving aid from face masks to test kits.

It identified over 300 accounts matching descriptions shared with it by former US military officials, many deploying the hashtag #Chinaangvirus (“China is the virus” in Tagalog). These gained tens of thousands of followers.

The campaign may have contributed to widespread vaccine scepticism in the Philippines, where take-up was so low that then president Rodrigo Duterte threatened to jail those who wouldn’t be inoculated. It ended up with the highest Covid fatality rate in south-east Asia.

Critics say such anti-vax campaigns reduce confidence in all vaccinations. It is not the first time US foreign policy has undermined public health programmes: a fake hepatitis inoculation drive in Pakistan used to gather intelligence on Osama bin Laden later led to attacks on health workers trying to administer polio vaccines.

Reuters also found US links to anti-vaccine propaganda in other countries such as memes created for Muslim countries showing pigs concealed behind a curtain of the Chinese flag with China offering vaccines on the other side — playing on claims, denied by Sinovac’s manufacturers, that its vaccine contained pig gelatine.

“The US accuses China, Russia and others of creating ‘fake news’ and spreading conspiracy theories, but again and again is revealed to be the worst culprit,” Keith Bennett of Friends of Socialist China told the Morning Star. “To have politicised the issue of Covid in this way is not only deeply dishonest: it shows an utter contempt for human lives.”

US sources told Reuters the campaign was intended to derail Chinese “vaccine diplomacy.” Beijing sent significant medical aid abroad during the pandemic while the US prioritised its own access to vaccine stocks and allowed drug companies to charge developing countries high prices for their products.

A Pentagon strategy document published last year advocated using “disinformation spread across social media, false narratives disguised as news and similar subversive activities” to undermine adversaries such as Russia and China.

The anti-vax campaigns appear to have been discontinued early in the Joe Biden presidency.

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