Influencers Offered Cash to Smear Pfizer COVID-19 Shot

Photo: Christophe Archambault/AFP via Getty Images

French and German social-media influencers say a mysterious advertising agency offered a potentially lucrative deal if they agreed to make bogus claims to discredit Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

Several prominent social-media creators were approached last week by Fazze, an “influencer marketing platform,” the New York Times reports. The agency offered them thousands of euros to “explain” to their audience that “the death rate among the vaccinated with Pfizer is almost 3x higher than the vaccine by AstraZeneca,” that “the mainstream media ignores” it, and to ask: “Why some governments actively purchasing Pfizer vaccine, which is dangerous to the health of the people?”

These claims are false. While the AstraZeneca COVID-19 shot has been plausibly linked to extremely rare blood clots, European and American regulators have not linked the Pfizer vaccine to any such side effects. In fact, the Pfizer vaccine has been a reliable workhorse in Europe’s vaccination drive, after subsequent setbacks with delivery delays and clotting concerns with the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. France’s health minister, Olivier Véran, denounced the disinformation operation on Tuesday, calling it “pathetic and dangerous.”

Léo Grasset, a well-known French science YouTuber with 1.1 million subscribers, said that an anonymous client contacted him about a partnership, and that the London address the client provided was fake. “All the employees have weird LinkedIn profiles … which have been missing since this morning. Everyone has worked in Russia before,” he wrote on Twitter on Monday. Though the agency claims to be based in London, Fazze isn’t registered as a U.K. company, according to the Times.

The disinformation effort triggered an investigation by French counterintelligence authorities to examine whether the Russian government orchestrated it, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. Both Moscow and Beijing have been involved in “state-sponsored disinformation” campaigns to increase hesitancy for any Western-produced vaccines, according to a study from the European Union last month.

Grasset said the disinformation effort emphasized the need for people, especially those with a platform, to be extremely cautious. “We creators on YouTube, on internet, Instagram, et cetera, we are at the center of something going on like an information war,” Grasset said in an interview with the Associated Press. “We, as creators, need to set our standards really high because it’s, I think, just the beginning.”

Influencers Were Offered Cash to Smear Pfizer COVID-19 Shot