In order to encourage Americans to get vaccinated, a federal health agency had an idea: Get Santa Claus involved. The Department of Health and Human Services had planned to devote $250 million for an advertising campaign, part of which involved Santa Claus performers promoting COVID-19 vaccination, reports the Wall Street Journal. In exchange, they would get access to the vaccine before the general public. And not just Mr. Claus, performers playing Mrs. Claus and elves would also benefit from the scheme. Michael Caputo, an HHS assistant secretary who took a 60-day medical leave last month, was the one who thought up the plan. It has since been scrapped and the HHS.spokesman denies that HHS Secretary Alex Azar had any idea that it was in the works.
Rick Erwin, the head of the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas, isn’t happy with the news that had given Santa performers hope the holiday season wouldn’t be completely lost due to the pandemic. Caputo had told Erwin the vaccine would likely be approved by mid-November and front-line workers would get it before Thanksgiving. “If you and your colleagues are not essential workers, I don’t know what is,” Caputo said in a call. Erwin recorded phone calls he had with Caputo and shared them with the Journal. In another call, Caputo seemed really excited about the prospect of making the president happy with his plan. “I cannot wait to tell the president,” Caputo said. “He’s going to love this.”
The idea of giving Santa performers priority for a vaccine didn’t exactly come out of left field. Erwin had called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to allow professional Santas to get early access to the vaccine along with “other front-line seasonal workers.”
The Santa Claus plan was part of a larger advertising campaign that sought to use influencers and prominent Americans to promote public health measures. A few Democrats raised questions about the campaign saying that it sounded like the White House wanted to use taxpayer dollars for what effectively amounted to a political campaign right around the election. HHS and the communications firm that won the contract insist the advertising campaign isn’t political. The entire campaign is now under review by the HHS.