A Trump official from the Department of Health and Human Services reportedly offered Santa Claus performers early access to the covid-19 vaccine in exchange for their participation in public service announcements promoting America’s reopening and vaccinations. This promise extended to performers playing Mrs. Claus and elves as well. According to the Wall Street Journal, the advertising campaign was funded with $250 million in taxpayer money. It’s the perfect story for the Trump era: A combination of deeply corrupt and deeply stupid.
The plan to turn Christmas performers into vaccine influencers has now fallen through. HHS announced that the campaign, the dream child of HHS Assistant Secretary Michael Caputo, was canceled and that HHS head Alex Azar allegedly had “no knowledge” of the Santa arrangement.
The Santas are not happy.
Somehow, it gets weirder. From the Wall Street Journal (emphasis ours):
Ric Erwin, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas, called the news “extremely disappointing,” adding: “This was our greatest hope for Christmas 2020, and now it looks like it won’t happen.”
In a 12-minute phone call in late August, Mr. Caputo told Mr. Erwin of the Santa group that vaccines would likely be approved by mid-November and distributed to front-line workers before Thanksgiving.
“If you and your colleagues are not essential workers, I don’t know what is,” Mr. Caputo said on the call, which was recorded by Mr. Erwin and provided to the Journal. “I cannot wait to tell the president,” Mr. Caputo said at another point about the plan. “He’s going to love this.”
Mr. Erwin said on the call: “Since you would be doing Santa a serious favor, Santa would definitely reciprocate.”
Mr. Caputo said: “I’m in, Santa, if you’re in.”
The ad campaign, titled “Covid 19 Public Health and Reopening America Public Service Announcements and Advertising Campaign” had a vision: to “defeat despair, inspire hope and achieve national recovery” with the help of pro-Trump celebrities and, apparently, Santas. Given the campaign’s focus on reopening, this entire effort has the whiff of Trump propaganda with a dash of public safety thrown in.
But even more galling was the promise Caputo made to Erwin that there will be a vaccine distributed before November, a claim with little evidentiary support. (Experts believe vaccine distribution starting in early 2021 is more realistic, with essential workers getting first dibs). According to Erwin, over 100 Santa actors volunteered. Now, they’ll have to brainstorm ways to make ends meet via virtual and socially distanced appearances during the holiday season instead. Only one thing is certain now: HHS is definitely getting 100 lumps of coal this Christmas.