The anti-vaccine movement uses lines first delivered by the authorities. In March 2020, a leading Russian physician, Leonid Roshal, claimed that the new coronavirus was no more dangerous than ordinary flu and even demanded prosecution for those who said otherwise. As the true scope of the pandemic became apparent and European capitals went into lockdowns, state media and officials downplayed or ignored reports of disastrous outbreaks in several regions, lauding Moscow’s “openness.”
Over the months that followed, state TV happily spread conspiracy theories about Western vaccines, casting doubt on the efficacy of vaccination. Russia Today, which fed its Western audiences a steady diet of conspiracies, even seems to have actively bolstered vaccine opponents at home. By the time the government and the media changed their tune, enforcing mandatory vaccination in the summer of 2021 and cracking down on anti-vaccine conspiracies, it was too late.
The rush to announce the world’s first registered vaccine, supposedly a victory over the West, was another gift to vaccine skeptics. They call Sputnik V, released before it completed the full roster of clinical trials, “untested” and refuse to take part in “illegal medical experiments.” Suspiciously inconsistent official statistics and policy reversals — on a QR code system for the vaccinated in Moscow, for example, or regional mask mandates — have further undermined the public’s trust.