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Criminals fiddled stolen Covid-19 vaccine data to damage trust

Malicious actors manipulated stolen Covid-19 data in a way clearly intended to damage public trust in vaccines, says the EMA

Cyber criminals who stole data on Covid-19 vaccines from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in December 2020 manipulated and altered the data before releasing it to the public in a manner clearly intended to damage public confidence in the safety of vaccines and the vaccination process.

The cyber attack saw data relating to Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine compromised, and it is some this information that has been fiddled with, investigators have found.

“This included internal/confidential email correspondence dating from November, relating to evaluation processes for Covid-19 vaccines. Some of the correspondence has been manipulated by the perpetrators prior to publication in a way which could undermine trust in vaccines,” the EMA said in its latest statement on the incident.

Since the cyber attack, independent scientific assessments have granted marketing authorisations to both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines in the European Union (EU), with the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine set to follow, and the EMA said that amid spiralling infection rates across Europe there was now an urgent public health need to make Covid-19 vaccines as widely available as possible, as soon as possible.

It added: “Despite this urgency, there has always been consensus across the EU not to compromise the high-quality standards and to base any recommendation on the strength of the scientific evidence on a vaccine’s safety, quality and efficacy, and nothing else.

“EMA is in constant dialogue with the EC [European Commission], and other regulators across the network and internationally. Authorisations are granted when the evidence shows convincingly that the benefits of vaccination are greater than any risks of the vaccine. Full details of the scientific assessments are publicly available in the European Public Assessment Reports on EMA’s website

“The Agency continues to fully support the criminal investigation into the data breach. Necessary action is being taken by the law enforcement authorities.”

Read more about technology and Covid-19 vaccines

The identity of the cyber criminal gang who broke into the EMA’s systems has not yet been revealed during the course of the investigation, however multiple organisations associated with the development of Covid-19 vaccines, as well as their transport and storage, have found themselves under attack by nation state backed actors.

Earlier in January 2021 a study conducted by polling company YouGov found that that Britons were among the most enthusiastic proponents of the various Covid-19 vaccines now coming to market, with 80% saying they would be happy to receive it, second only to Thailand in the data. People in Denmark, Mexico, India, Spain, Australia, Italy, China and Malaysia were also more likely to say they would take the vaccine when offered.

However, in a sign of how widespread anti-vaccination sentiment has become, only 47% of Americans said they would receive the vaccine, 39% of French people, and 28% of Poles, many of whom said they were worried about what the vaccines contain. Rates were also lower in a number of Apac states including Singapore, the Philippines, Taiwan and Hong Kong, but this likely reflects those governments’ competent and effective response to the pandemic as opposed to anti-vaccination sentiment.

All available evidence shows that the Covid-19 vaccines are entirely safe and highly effective against the various strains of Covid-19 in circulation, even the more virulent ones that have emerged in recent weeks. Anti-vaccination is a conspiracy theory spread by malicious actors as part of disinformation campaigns, and puts people’s lives at risk.

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