NL: Russian Covid vaccine maker violating Dutch rules with misleading Tweets

AMSTERDAM - The producer of the Russian Covid-19 vaccine Sputnik-V has been in breach of Dutch law since they started advertising their vaccine directly to Twitter users in the Netherlands, the Volkskrant reported. Aside from the Sputnik-V marketing messages being misleading, the newspaper noted that advertising an unregistered medicine is strictly prohibited,

The Twitter account @sputnikvaccine, which is followed by 329 thousand Twitter accounts, is used by the manufacturer to promote the benefits of what it claims to be "the first registered vaccine against Covid-19". A Russian State investment fund supports the operations of the Twitter account, with money used to target people from specific countries, the newspaper reported.

The account often posts tweets meant to promote misleading accusations against other Covid-19 vaccines, against health officials in countries with poor bilateral relationships with Russia, and imply media conspiracies about the reporting of health risks and side effects of vaccines. The status messages often use a tabloid-style form of writing meant to induce clicks, whether the text slams one vaccine or vaccine technology, or promotes the latest developments regarding the Sputnik V vaccine.

Frederik Schutte represents the CGR, a coalition of Dutch pharmaceutical and healthcare firms which helps shape policy for how medicines are advertised to the public in the Netherlands. Schutte told the newspaper that the @sputnikvaccine tweets and their promotion to a Dutch audience is a violation of Dutch law, because advertising medicines that are not freely available on the Dutch market is prohibited.

Additionally, the vaccine from the Russian manufacturer is still under evaluation by the European Medicines Agency. Once their investigation is concluded, they will issue a recommendation to the European Council stating whether or not the product should be approved for use on the European market. It is therefore not officially registered in most European countries, though the national governments of Hungary and Slovakia have approved it for use.

However, the Russian government earlier this month demanded they return all Sputnik V vaccine doses after Slovakia’s medicines agency said the batches of the vaccine it received were not the same as those submitted for international review, according to a April 9 report from Reuters.

Fines for violating the ban on this type of advertising start at 150,000 euros. 

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