Influencers offered money by ‘Russian-linked’ PR agency to discredit Pfizer vaccine

French health minister Olivier Veran blasts smear attempt as ‘pathetic’ and ‘dangerous’

Rory Sullivan
Tuesday 25 May 2021 18:49 BST
A French influencer was offered money to spread falsehoods about the safety of the Pfizer vaccine.
A French influencer was offered money to spread falsehoods about the safety of the Pfizer vaccine.

A PR agency with alleged links to Russia has offered “considerable” amounts of money to European influencers if they discredit the Pfizer vaccine on their social media channels, it has emerged.

Leo Grasset, a French YouTuber with 1.1 million subscribers, was among those approached to take part in the smear campaign.

Someone reportedly working for an advertising agency called Fazze offered him a lucrative deal to post content criticising the Pfizer vaccine.

In particular, he was asked to promote the false claim that “the mortality rate of the Pfizer vaccine is 3 times greater than the AstraZeneca” in a 45- to 60- second video.

This is similar to the groundless rhetoric touted by Russia that mRNA vaccines such as Pfizer’s are not as safe as viral vector vaccines like AstraZeneca’s or its own Sputnik V jab.

German podcaster and YouTuber Mirko Drotschman, who has a total of 1.5 million subscribers, also posted a similar email he had received about “an information campaign”.

They both stood to make a lot of money, as a French trainee doctor with only tens of thousands of followers told the broadcaster BFMTV that he was promised £1,730 (€2000) if he made a 30-second video on the same subject.

Talking of the propaganda attempts, French health minister Olivier Veran said: “It’s pathetic, it’s dangerous, it’s irresponsible and it doesn’t work.”

Fazze, the name of the PR agency involved in the propaganda campaign, gave a fake London address on its website, before this was later deleted. However, the firm’s LinkedIn page suggests that its bosses come from Russia.

The latest smear efforts come a month after the EU accused Russia and China of “state-sponsored disinformation” campaigns seeking to undermine the reputation of western-made coronavirus vaccines.

Additional reporting from AP

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