In American conservative media, there has been a recent push encouraging vaccine adoption. Notable examples of figures making public statements advocating for vaccines over the past week include Mitch McConnell, Steve Scalise, and Sean Hannity. Such gestures have been welcomed by semi-puzzled liberals, who have come to associate conservative politics during much of the pandemic with skepticism of vaccines and an embrace of conspiracy theories .
In the past month, a similar push for the acceptance of vaccines has been furthered in Russia. This seems to have been kicked off on June 30 with Vladimir Putin’s annual call-in show where he said he had received the Sputnik V vaccine. This added additional detail to quieter earlier disclosures that the Russian president had received a second shot in March. While promoting the safety of domestic Russian vaccines, Putin continued to stoke fears in Western vaccines, saying: “thank God we haven’t had tragic situations after vaccinations like after the use of AstraZeneca or Pfizer.” 
Putin’s patriotic vaccine statements seemed to form a cue for senior clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) to come out publicly in favor of vaccination with domestic vaccines, using many of the tropes of conservative conspiracy theory. This vaccine promotion is interesting because these figures have themselves often been associated with national ideology, conspiracy theories, and disinformation – and even rumors of involvement with the FSB. Their approach may offer some constructive lessons in how conspiratorial language can be repurposed to promote vaccine adoption. But it also raises more questions about the state of disinformation in Russia and its effects abroad.
I recently read an article which suggested that the conspiracy theory that vaccines contain microchips emerged following a March 18, 2020 Reddit AMA with Bill Gates . In response to the AMA, biohackers began to write positively about the potential for chip-based medical devices to combat epidemics and deliver vaccines.
Within several days of the Reddit AMA, a Baptist pastor from Jacksonville Florida named Adam Fannin – known best for his anti-Semitic conflicts with comedian Sarah Silverman in 2019 – found one of these biohacking blog posts online. Fannin then developed it into his own interpretation of apocalyptic prophecy largely based on his “deep distrust of Gates”. Fannin made a 9-minute YouTube sermon which went viral and accumulated nearly 2 million views before it was taken down. “The pastor titled the post, “Bill Gates – Microchip Vaccine Implants to fight Coronavirus,” adding one pivotal word to the biohackers’ title: vaccine.”
Attached is my most recent peer reviewed paper which was accepted for publication in the proceedings of the 15th International Conference on Cyber Warfare and Security (ICCWS) to be held on 12-13 March 2020 at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. The paper is based on an analysis of the online conspiracy theories which surrounded the 15 April 2019 fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. (While the paper was published I am not attending the conference for personal reasons.)
Included in the milieu of conspiracy theories circulated online were fake Nostradamus prophecies evoking a kind of conspiracism known as ‘popular eschatology’. The sharing of such conspiracies drove a large global increase in Nostradamus interest, as revealed by Google Trends.
The overall mix of the Notre Dame fire conspiracy theories – to include notions of false flags, Islamophobic sentiments, and Nostradamus prophecies – seem to be similar to 9/11 conspiracies, and may share commonality in their links to Russian influence.
The new paper argues that Nostradamus prophecies can be seen as similar in how they promote Islamophobia and anti-Catholicism as to how the Russian secret police concoction ‘The Protocols of Zion’ may have been useful in promoting anti-Semitism in furtherance of fin de siè·cle Russian influence campaigns. It dives deep into a cultural examination of Russia’s apparent sense of hostility to Catholicism based on its historical legacy as a Russian Orthodox country, and it attempts to frame the described 2019 ‘anti-Catholic conspiracies’ within a framework of Russian disinformation sympathetic to such nationalistic ideas.