US money funding website that claims Covid-19 pandemic is fake and vaccines are bioweapons, says report
The US state department funded the initiative to encourage democracy in the former Soviet Republic. Instead, it is spinning a false and dangerous narrative around the pandemic
A part of US taxpayers' money is being channeled into something insidious: a website that peddles misinformation on the pandemic in Asia's Armenia. According to an investigative report from openDemocracy, the site claimed that the pandemic is fake and that the Covid-19 vaccines are biological weapons in the making. The website in question is Medmedia.am. The US state department funded the initiative to encourage democracy in the former Soviet Republic. Instead, it is spinning a false and dangerous narrative around the pandemic, the report read.
Paul Offit, a US doctor, immunology expert and co-inventor of a vaccine against rotavirus — a leading cause of severe diarrhea in children under five years old, told openDemocracy: "I think that this misinformation is incredibly dangerous." Gayane Sahakyan, National Immunisation Project Leader at the Ministry of Health in Armenia, warned that "such misinformation could worsen Covid-19 infections."
Those pushing false claims during the crisis "are trying to sow havoc" she said, "and cut the demand for the vaccine long before it is even developed." The country has confirmed more than 8,000 cases so far. About 113 have died. Armenia came out of a lockdown on May 4. Among the most-read stories featured on the website, one falsely claims that the relatives of a deceased were offered money to sign a document stating that the man had died of coronavirus. In another, it said that the country should refuse vaccinations against Covid-19. Both of them are sourced from Facebook posts.
Other pieces appearing on the website are short news articles, videos and interviews on several topics, including nutrition and dental health. Their page does name the editors and the reporters involved, although some of the stories have bylines, according to the report. At the bottom of the webpage is a disclaimer that says it is "funded through a Department of State Public Affairs Section grant", while also stating that the content does "not necessarily reflect" the views of the US government.
How did the US State Department grant them money?
The US money went to a local NGO named Armenian Association of Young Doctors. In 2019, the group launched Medmedia.am with a controversial figure Dr Gevorg Grigoryan at the helm. He is known for his views against vaccines and the gay community. He once reportedly claimed that the HPV vaccine that protects women from cervical cancers increases the risk of cancer.
He also said that the vaccine is for gay men. It is "not recommended for men of the accepted orientation to be vaccinated," he reportedly said. To dig out more information on the website, openDemocracy reached out to the US embassy in Yerevan, Armenia's capital. They confirmed that the State Department's funding helped create it. But they did not comment on the value of the grant and the misinformation.
Responding to the questions raised on the site, Grigoryan said that the content does not reflect the views of the editorial board. But they are obliged to publish the opinions of the civil society and that of the authorized body. He added, "Our website is also ready to cooperate with and implement a program aimed at increasing the coverage of vaccinations in our country."