Russian fake news claims Oxford vaccine will turn people into MONKEYS

Russia spreads fake news claiming Oxford coronavirus vaccine will turn people into MONKEYS – and portrays Boris Johnson as Bigfoot

  • Russian propagandists are targeting the Oxford vaccine with monkey memes
  • Designed to confuse and instil fear in the populace and broadcast on state TV 
  • Show Boris Johnson as bigfoot and chimp in AstraZeneca coat holding a syringe 
  • Uncle Sam’s famed poster is edited to say: ‘I want YOU to take monkey vaccine’

A smear campaign has been launched in Russia to discredit the coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University scientists.

It aims to spread fear about the vaccine with ridiculous claims that it will turn people into apes because it uses a chimpanzee virus. 

Images and video clips suggesting any vaccine made in the UK would be dangerous are circulating on Russian social media.

Some were shown on the Russian TV programme Vesti News, said to be the country’s equivalent of the BBC‘s Newsnight.

An unsettling portrayal of Prime Minister Boris Johnson as 'bigfoot' walking along Whitehall with a folder headed 'AstraZeneca'

An unsettling portrayal of Prime Minister Boris Johnson as ‘bigfoot’ walking along Whitehall with a folder headed ‘AstraZeneca’

Another image shows a chimpanzee in a lab coat from pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca – which is manufacturing the vaccine – brandishing a syringe

Another image shows a chimpanzee in a lab coat from pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca – which is manufacturing the vaccine – brandishing a syringe

One image shows Boris Johnson walking into Downing Street, but it has been manipulated to make him look like a yeti. The picture is captioned: ‘I like my bigfoot vaccine’.

Another image shows a chimpanzee in a lab coat from pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca – which is manufacturing the vaccine – brandishing a syringe.

America’s Uncle Sam appears in another crude image with the message: ‘I want you – to take the monkey vaccine’.

Only ‘slim’ chance front-runner Oxford candidate will be ready before Christmas 

There is only a ‘slim’ chance Oxford University’s coronavirus jab will be ready to go before Christmas, the government’s vaccine tsar admitted today.

As cases and hospital admissions surge in Britain, chair of the UK Vaccine Taskforce Kate Bingham said she is hopeful that trials will show signs of success by the end of the year but warned there is no guarantee.

Oxford’s jab, which works by transporting a fragment of the coronavirus into the body on-board another virus, is the global front-runner in the bid to stop the disease.

Early data from clinical trials suggest the vaccine is safe for people to receive and appears to trigger the correct type of immune response.

Hopes for ending the pandemic currently hinge on finding a jab that works as soon as possible. Without a vaccine or a cure – neither of which yet exist – there is no way to stop Covid-19.

Ms Bingham’s comments come after England’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, suggested last month the most vulnerable people in England could start receiving the vaccine before the end of 2020, with a wider public roll-out next year.

Ms Bingham, who was a biotech investor before being drafted in to help develop a vaccine for coronavirus, said: ‘I think it’s a slim chance, but there is a chance, that we could have the Oxford vaccine before Christmas.’

The Oxford jab is currently in phase three trials, which are the final stage experiments done on a huge group of people to prove whether it works.

It has already proven to be safe in earlier tests on small groups and has now been given to more than 30,000 people in the UK, US, Brazil and South Africa.

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The campaign has the potential to damage the Oxford programme by appealing to anti-vaccine fanatics.

It is aimed to hit sales in countries where Russia wants to sell its own Sputnik V jab. 

Last night, AstraZeneca’s chief executive Pascal Soriot condemned attempts to undermine their work, while this morning Professor Andrew Pollard, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, also hit out.

Professor Pollard, who is professor of Paediatric Infection and Immunity at the University of Oxford, told BBC Radio Four’s today programme: ‘In this context we are in at the moment, any misinformation, where we are trying to think of an intervention that we can have in the future to help the pandemic, whether they are treatments or vaccine, anything that undermines that could be extremely dangerous.

‘The type vaccine we have is very very similar to a number of other vaccines, including the Russian vaccine, all of which use the Common Cold virus from humans or from chimpanzees.

‘To our bodies, the viruses look the same.

‘We don’t actually have any chimpanzees involved at all in the process of making the vaccine, because it is all about the virus, rather than animals it might more commonly infect.’ 

He said that the use of the chimpanzee cold virus was a ‘shuttle’ to get the genetic material from coronavirus into the vaccine.

‘Our bodies doesn’t look at the virus and say “this is from a chimpanzee or a human,” it just sees a collection of proteins to make an immune response, he added. 

Meanwhile, Mr Soriot told The Times: ‘Scientists at AstraZeneca and at many other companies and institutions around the world are working tirelessly to develop a vaccine and therapeutic treatments to defeat this virus.

‘But it is independent experts and regulatory agencies across the world that ultimately decide if a vaccine is safe and effective before it is approved for use. Misinformation is a clear risk to public health.

‘This is especially true during the current pandemic which continues to claim tens of thousands of lives, significantly disrupt the way we live and damage the economy.

‘I urge everyone to use reliable sources of information, to trust regulatory agencies and to remember the enormous benefit vaccines and medicines continue to bring to humanity.’

Meanwhile, Doctor Hilary Jones told Good Morning Britain the attempts at disinformation were ‘utterly ridiculous and shameful’.

He said: ‘Oxford have a very reliable team, remember, that’s where penicillin was worked-up and produced for the Second World War.

‘Oxford have a fantastic reputation, they are doing this thoroughly and are looking at thousands of people from all different groups and ages.

‘They are doing this safely and effectively and for the Russians to try to besmirch what they are trying to do because parts of the vaccine comes from chimpanzee material is utterly ridiculous and shameful.’  

He added: ‘I would put my money on Oxford every time.’

A whistleblower reportedly said that the aim of the smear was to place the images on Western websites.

The campaign began over a month ago after a volunteer in the Oxford trial fell ill meaning the project was temporarily halted.

Countries such as India and Brazil, where Russia was trying to market its own vaccine, have been targeted by the campaign, the whistleblower told the Times. 

It is not clear if the propaganda attempt was directly authorised by the Kremlin.

America's Uncle Sam appears in another crude image with the message: 'I want you – to take the monkey vaccine'

America’s Uncle Sam appears in another crude image with the message: ‘I want you – to take the monkey vaccine’

However, a spokesperson for the Russian embassy told the Times: ‘The suggestion that the Russian state may conduct any kind of propaganda against the Astrazeneca vaccine is itself an example of disinformation.

‘It is obviously aimed at discrediting Russia’s efforts in combating the pandemic, including the good cooperation we have established with the UK in this field.’

In July, British spies were able to detect a Russian cyber attack on the Oxford coronavirus vaccine computers after installing a security shield around the facility.

Intelligence services feared a possible hacking attempt in March as the pandemic spread throughout the country, as reported by The Times.

A cyber-shield was installed by National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), a division of GCHQ, who later detected an attack from hacker group Cozy Bear, also known as Advanced Persistent Threat 29 and the Dukes.

It is not clear if the group – who are thought to be closely allied to the Russian state – managed to secure any information.

This week it was also revealed that there is only a ‘slim’ chance Oxford University’s coronavirus jab will be ready to go before Christmas.

Chair of the UK Vaccine Taskforce Kate Bingham said she is hopeful that trials will show signs of success by the end of the year but warned there is no guarantee.

Oxford’s jab, which works by transporting a fragment of the coronavirus into the body on-board another virus, is the global front-runner in the bid to stop the disease.

Early data from clinical trials suggest the vaccine is safe for people to receive and appears to trigger the correct type of immune response.

Hopes for ending the pandemic currently hinge on finding a jab that works as soon as possible. Without a vaccine or a cure – neither of which yet exist – there is no way to stop Covid-19.

Ms Bingham’s comments come after England’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, suggested last month the most vulnerable people in England could start receiving the vaccine before the end of 2020, with a wider public roll-out next year.

Ms Bingham, who was a biotech investor before being drafted in to help develop a vaccine for coronavirus, said: ‘I think it’s a slim chance, but there is a chance, that we could have the Oxford vaccine before Christmas.’

The Oxford jab is currently in phase three trials, which are the final stage experiments done on a huge group of people to prove whether it works.

It has already proven to be safe in earlier tests on small groups and has now been given to more than 30,000 people in the UK, US, Brazil and South Africa.

Sputnik V vaccine – the Adenovirus vaccine which is based on largely same principles as Oxford’s 

The Sputnik V vaccine is being marketed on its website as the ‘first registered Covid-19 vaccine on the market’.

It was registered by the Russian Ministry of Health on August 11.

It’s name is a nod to the Sputnik space programme, which in 1957 launched the first space satellite by the Soviet Union.

But despite a disinformation campaign from Russia of Oxford’s vaccine, the Sputnik V is largely based upon the same principles.

Both are Adenovirus vaccines. Standard vaccines involve injecting an inactivated version of the virus. The immune system then latches onto the outside of the virus, sparking the body to create specific antibodies.

This helps the immune system to learn how to create a response if the real virus enters the body.

But Adenovirus vaccines are different.

Viruses work by attacking cells, before using those pirated cells to replicate itself.

But if it is the first time a virus is seen by the immune system, it often takes time to produce an effective antibody, and the virus can often spread  to many cells in that time – making people sick. 

Adenoviruses are different, in that they can still attack cells, they do not replicate themselves.

Therefore, scientists can take Covid-19, insert the genetic code which makes its spikes, and insert it into the adenovirus. 

The cells then churns out copies of the coronavirus spike, allowing the body to spot and create antibodies for the spike. 

The big difference between the Sputnik and Oxford versions is that Russian version of the virus uses an adenovirus that infects humans, while the Oxford one uses an adenovirus that infects chimpanzees.

Oxford’s method is used because it increases the chance the body will not interfere with the process of the vaccine being created.

But there is no evidence that using adenovirus from animals will turn people into chimpanzees – in the same way that coronavirus, which is believed to have come from bats, has not turned anyone into a bat. 

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