The federal government has brought a coronavirus vaccine advertising campaign that would have included Santa Claus performers to a grinding halt.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the idea was part of a larger advertising campaign that was designed to “defeat despair, inspire hope and achieve national recovery” going into the November an December months, and instill public confidence in a coronavirus vaccine.
The Santa idea was reportedly spearheaded by Michael Caputo, assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, before it was scrapped.
As part of the campaign, the federal government would have provided Santa performers with early access to a coronavirus vaccine. Audio recordings published by the Journal purportedly feature Caputo and Ric Erwin, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas, talking about the collaboration back in August of this year.
During the conversation, Caputo explains to Erwin that front-line essential workers would be among the first to receive a coronavirus vaccine. “From my perspective, if you and your colleagues are not essential workers, I don’t know what is,” said Caputto.
Another man on the call, presumably Erwin, promptly breaks out into a deep belly laugh, exclaiming, “Ho-ho-ho-ho-ho! I love you!”
In a statement to the Journal, Erwin said the collaboration program “was our greatest hope for Christmas 2020,” and called the development “extremely disappointing.”
An HHS spokesperson told the Journal that Secretary Alex Azar was never made aware of the Santa outreach portion of the campaign, but confirmed it had been scrapped. The rest of the campaign is currently under review.
The Santa campaign was part of a larger, $250 million coronavirus ad campaign first reported by Politico. At the time, the news agency did not disclose the existence of the Santa portion of the program, but focused on the implications of such a campaign in close proximity to an election, and how HHS planned to spend the majority of the budget by January.
Congressional Democrats subsequently called for an investigation into the campaign, floating the possibility that the Trump administration was “using a quarter of a billion dollars in taxpayer money to fund what appears to be a political propaganda campaign just two months before a presidential election,” per a letter obtained by Politico.
In a statement in September, the department denied that the ad campaign was in any way associated with the president’s re-election strategy.
“There is no room for political spin in the messages and materials designed by HHS to help Americans make informed decisions about the prevention and treatment of Covid-19 and flu,” said HHS official Mark Weber, who took over the project after Caputo went on medical leave in mid-September, reported Politico.
According to CNN, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday that medical experts will know whether a coronavirus vaccine candidate is safe and effective around late November or early December. However, even if a vaccine proves safe and effective, widespread availability wouldn’t come until several months into 2021, he said.
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