A negative news report on Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine recently set off a debate on China’s social media.
On Jan. 27, an article titled “WHO Does Not Recommend MODERNA COVID-19 Vaccines” appeared on a host of Chinese state media outlets, including the Global Times, Guancha, iFeng Tech, and official accounts of local governments. This topic became so heated that it rocketed to fourth place on the list of the most searched hashtags on China’s social media Weibo.
But the report turned out to be a misrepresentation of information from the World Health Organization (WHO). WHO guidance issued on Jan. 25 had advised against the use of the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based firm’s vaccine by those under 18 or who are pregnant.
Some netizens said the false news reports were an attempt to cater to xenophobic and nationalist sentiment among the Chinese.
Some believed China’s state-run media outlets were smearing foreign vaccines in order to help promote domestic ones.
Moderna and Pfizer are two major competitors to China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm in the global vaccine market. So far, only Sinopharm’s vaccine has been approved by China’s health regulators.
“They’re playing it up,” one netizen commented.
Others said: “If they [Chinese vaccines] had got it right, it couldn’t have become a hot word,” and “Smart guys. Doing whatever they like just to meet their own goals.”
Several hours later, iFeng Tech changed the headline of its article to “WHO Does Not Recommend Pregnant Women to Take Moderna Vaccines.”
While both the Global Times and Guancha deleted their articles following the public outrage, the search keyword phrase remained on the Weibo ranking list long after the news was debunked.
It’s not the first time the CCP media has tried to discredit foreign COVID-19 vaccines.
The Global Times, a tabloid published by the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the CCP, published more than 10 reports in mid-January that were critical of vaccines and inoculation schemes in the West.
On Jan. 16, Liu Xin, journalist and anchor of an English-language Chinese state TV channel, posted on Twitter that 10 people died several days after they received Pfizer vaccines in Germany. Since then, Germany has said the deaths were determined not to be linked to the inoculations.
Brigitte Keller-Stanislawski, head of the department of safety of medicinal products and medical devices at the Paul Ehrlich Institute in Germany, defended the Moderna vaccine. She said at a press conference that the deaths were among “seriously ill patients” ranging in age from 79 to 93, and had no causal relationship to the vaccination, reports said.
Reuters contributed to this report.