Investigation: US Military Ran Major Anti-Vax Campaign

Reuters reports the Pentagon orchestrated one in the Philippines during COVID to discredit China
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 14, 2024 12:32 PM CDT
Behind One Major Anti-Vax Campaign: the US Military
Then-Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte removes his face mask before delivering a speech in June 2021.   (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

At one point during the COVID pandemic, then-Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte was so exasperated about how few citizens were getting vaccinations that he made an unusual threat. "You choose, vaccine or I will have you jailed," he told the nation in a televised address in June 2021. What might explain why so many people were so wary in a nation hard hit by the virus? An investigation by Reuters points the finger at an unexpected factor—an anti-vax campaign run by the US military. The story alleges that the campaign ran from spring 2020 through mid-2021, a span that encompasses both the Trump and Biden administrations. The purpose wasn't to cast doubt on vaccines—that was just a potentially deadly side effect—it was to damage China, according to the story.

"We weren't looking at this from a public health perspective," a senior military officer involved in the program tells the outlet. "We were looking at how we could drag China through the mud." China's Sinovac vaccine was the first one available in the Philippines, and the campaign bombarded social media with posts, purportedly by Filipinos, warning that the shots were dangerous. At the time, the US and China were blaming each other as the source of the pandemic, and the campaign sought to reinforce the narrative that it originated in China. As part of that, it discouraged people from using a China-made vaccine. Reuters identified more than 300 US-run bogus accounts on what was then Twitter.

A Pentagon spokeswoman said the US military "uses a variety of platforms, including social media, to counter those malign influence attacks aimed at the US, allies, and partners." She added that China used a "disinformation campaign to falsely blame the United States for the spread of COVID-19." Reuters notes that the Pentagon is expressly forbidden from deploying propaganda against Americans, and the investigation found no evidence it did so. But Esperanza Cabral, a former Filipino health secretary, voices a starker concern: "I'm sure that there are lots of people who died from COVID who did not need to die from COVID," she says. (Read the full investigation.)

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