Kremlin-controlled media is deep in a massive vaccine disinfo campaign, and has been ever since COVID jabs were first introduced. The goal, from the beginning, was simple: to undermine foreign-made inoculations, and promote Russia’s COVID jabs as the very best.
But now, it seems that the fearmongering is backfiring and impeding the Kremlin’s push to vaccinate its own people. The sale of counterfeit vaccination certificates is currently the most widespread type of online fraud in Russia, and some are so desperate to dodge the jab that they’re allegedly ordering prosthetic arms to fool medical personnel.
“So far, the most f’d up story about anti-vaxxers was brought to me by a makeup effects artist who made us costumes for our last shoot. She has a workshop, where they make props and prosthetics,” Russian film producer Rosya Skrypnik tweeted last month. “Every week someone tries to order a silicone pad that could be applied to the arm, so that the vaccine would be injected into a ‘fake shoulder.’”
The producer wrote that initially, she thought the makeup artist was joking. But then, her colleague showed her “DMs to her workshop, where people are offering unlimited amounts of money for a prosthetic arm they could wear to a mandatory vaccination. When the props masters patiently explain that the doctor would recognize a prop, and that this works only in the movies, the anti-vaxxers just offer more money.”
TikTok personality Nika Viper helped popularize the nutty idea with her video, demonstrating a mock vaccination with a prosthetic arm. It received nearly 20,000 likes. Some of the comments read: “I’d pay any amount of money for this,” “Can I borrow the arm?” and “This vaccine is dangerous.”
The story about anti-vaxxers seeking prosthetic arms for sale was also showcased on Russian state TV last month. Popular state TV program 60 Minutes broadcast a cartoon demonstrating the use of the fake arm during an inoculation. Host Evgeny Popov explained that Russian anti-vaxxers “invented another method they see as a viable option, designed to trick the doctors during their vaccination,” adding, “This is not a joke.” Co-host Olga Skabeeva surmised, “Prosthetic arms, fake vaccination certificates, all sorts of things anti-vaxxers do to avoid a vaccination. The kinds of things we used to laugh at have become a reality.”
Other methods reportedly used by desperate Russian anti-vaxxers include obtaining an excuse from a doctor by faking a pregnancy or feigning various allergies, paying corrupt doctors and nurses to administer a fake shot into a sponge instead of an arm, using a ridiculous gadget to remove freshly-injected vaccine, and buying fake vaccination certificates on the black market. “This is mass psychosis,” concluded Artem Kiryanov, member of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation, discussing the increasingly desperate measures taken by anti-vaxxers in his 60 Minutes appearance.
A glimpse into the Russian state media’s operations reveals at least part of the reason Russia has such a low vaccination rate—a meager 16 percent, as compared to more than 49 percent in the United States.
Last year, Dmitry Kiselyov, the host of a popular state TV program Vesti Nedeli, dedicated a segment to a discussion on the AstraZeneca vaccine. He bemoaned the jab’s “serious side effects,” spoke of gory medical mishaps and trashed the Oxford invention as a “monkey vaccine,” in reference to the fact that—unlike Russia’s Sputnik V—AstraZeneca is chimpanzee adenovirus-vectored, meaning it was made using a modified version of a virus that infects chimps.
“America was counting on AstraZeneca’s vaccine,” the notoriously anti-U.S. propagandist said as he stood in front of a screen with two posters. One featured Uncle Sam with the caption: “I want you to take monkey vaccine” and another depicted King Kong forcefully inoculating Ann Darrow, above a text that read: “Don’t worry, monkey vaccine is fine.” The segment concluded with Kiselyov asserting that less Russophobic countries have an advantage: They can use Sputnik V instead of the “monkey vaccine.”
State TV presentations followed a familiar pattern: Citing a slew of unreliable sources, hosts announced “horrendous scandals,” alleging multiple deaths and devastating side effects experienced by AstraZeneca vaccine recipients. Multiple news segments bombarded the audiences with stories of the jab’s complications, from blood clots to multiple deaths. Sinister music often accompanied the segments. They even showcased a photograph allegedly depicting a corpse lying in the street, and attributed the death to an AstraZeneca shot.
The Pfizer vaccine was also targeted by Russian state media with fervor. One video posted by a Louisiana-based Brant Griner earlier this year—featuring his mother, Angelia Gipson Desselle, violently twitching after receiving the Pfizer jab—was played on loop across Russian airwaves. The news lines were dramatic: “Horrific consequences of the American Pfizer vaccine,” “Woman who suffered convulsions after taking Pfizer Covid jab being screened for permanent neurological damage, son tells RT.”
Appearing on Russian state TV, Griner urged people not to take the jab, and claimed he had been contacted by “thousands and thousands” of people, “hundreds” of whom had reported adverse reactions. “Forewarned is forearmed,” Evgeny Popov ominously said in one of the broadcasts, referring to the clip. After getting contacted by U.S. news outlets attempting to verify his story, Griner removed the clip from his social media pages—but by that point, it had already racked up millions of views.
In later videos, he said that his mother “didn’t know” the condition “would go away in a day or two,” and asked her son to remove the videos as she was “overwhelmed” by the amount of publicity they received. Still, as recently as this month, Desselle was included in a Fox News segment about adverse reactions to vaccines, featuring Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson.
Other videos promoted by the Russian state media were less dramatic, but their cumulative effect was potentially devastating. Cherry-picking isolated reports of rare side effects from around the world, the state media created a never-ceasing stream of bad vaccine news, including: “13 dead in Norway,” “Miami doctors dies 2 weeks after Pfizer’s Covid-19 jab,” “Young doctor left paralyzed in wake of taking Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine in Mexico,” and “Teenager Dies in Sleep After Receiving Pfizer COVID-19.”
On July 20, Alexei Naumov from the Russian International Affairs Council said: “Our fight for our vaccine is a struggle for Russia’s global influence... It’s a modern-day nuclear arms race and we’re among the leaders, which is great.” To further discredit the Pfizer jab, Russian TV state programs would even showcase clips of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson questioning the vaccine.
Therein lies the entire plot. Moscow’s ham-fisted approach was explicit and brazen. By trashing the reputation of Western vaccines and showcasing individual adverse reactions from all over the world, the Russian state media sought to discredit competitors and promote its own vaccines. Instead, vaccine hesitancy in Russia is now through the roof, and stories of people using prosthetic limbs for COVID shots and faking vaccine certificates are rampant. Russia now has the highest tracked rate of vaccine opposition in the world, according to a recent study by Morning Consult, with the U.S. coming in second. A July survey by Russia’s Levada-Center showed that the most popular reason for refusing vaccination is the fear of side effects.
When Russia announced that its health ministry is testing the effectiveness of combining Sputnik V with AstraZeneca, the public response demonstrated just how successful the propaganda campaigns have been. Appearing on various Russian TV shows, multiple guests appeared shocked and bashed the idea, with some saying: “Need a new batch of volunteers with no survival instinct?” and “Darwin’s hypothesis will come true in the reverse order: A man will turn into a monkey.”
Addressing Russia’s struggle to get the pandemic under control, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told TASS on Tuesday that “the not-very-rapid vaccination pace is among the reasons why we have so far been unable to radically contain the spread of the disease.”
Turns out that fearmongering about other vaccines leads to a distrust in all of them. As a well-known Russian proverb goes: Don’t dig a hole for someone else, or you may fall into it yourself.