Covid-19 vaccine papers leaked online, 'manipulated' by hackers to sow distrust, says EU regulator

A nurse administers a Covid-19 vaccine shot at a vaccination centre near London on Jan 14, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

THE HAGUE (AFP) - Hackers who stole documents from the EU's drug regulator have leaked some online and "manipulated" them in a bid to damage public trust in coronavirus vaccines, the watchdog said on Friday (Jan 15).

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) revealed in December that it had been targeted in a major cyber attack that illegally accessed information relating to the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna jabs.

The Amsterdam-based EMA said ongoing investigations showed that "some of the unlawfully accessed documents related to Covid-19 medicines and vaccines have been leaked on the Internet".

These included confidential internal emails from November "relating to evaluation processes for Covid-19 vaccines", the agency said in a statement.

"Some of the correspondence has been manipulated by the perpetrators prior to publication in a way which could undermine trust in vaccines," it added.

Dutch public broadcaster NOS said it had viewed documents posted online which appeared to show the EMA facing heavy pressure from the European Commission to approve the vaccines as soon as possible.

But NOS said the EMA had not confirmed whether those passages, which were posted on a Russian Internet forum, were genuine.

The broadcaster quoted an unnamed source as saying that a "foreign intelligence service" was behind the hack.

German media have reported similar conclusions.

The EMA said it had been in "constant dialogue" with the European Commission and that despite the urgency of approving vaccines, there had "always been consensus across the EU not to compromise the high-quality standards" it uses.

Dutch police are currently investigating the hack along with the EMA.

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