A senior Trump administration official reportedly offered Santa performers early COVID-19 vaccines for starring in a $250 million public awareness campaign
- Michael Caputo, an assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services (HSS), offered Santa performers early access to COVID-19 vaccines, the Wall Street Journal reported.
- The performers would get the vaccines if they helped with the agency's planned $250 million vaccination drive campaign, the Journal reported.
- "If you and your colleagues are not essential workers, I don't know what is," Caputo told an organization representing Santas, according to audio recordings accessed by the Journal.
- "I cannot wait to tell the president," Caputo added. "He's going to love this."
- The HHS has since pulled the campaign, which Santa performers described as "[their] greatest hope for Christmas 2020."
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The Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) pulled a $250 million COVID-19 public service campaign that would have offered Santa performers early vaccines, the Wall Street Journal reported.
HSS assistant secretary Michael Caputo wanted Santa, Mrs Claus, and elf performers to promote the benefits of COVID-19 vaccines. In return, the performers would get vaccine access ahead of the general public, according to audio recordings accessed by the Journal.
A spokesperson for the HHS told the Journal the planned collaboration with Santas would no longer happen, and that HHS Secretary Alex Azar did not know of Caputo's plans.
In an August call with Ric Erwin, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas, Caputo said early vaccines may be given to front-line workers in November.
"If you and your colleagues are not essential workers, I don't know what is," Caputo told Erwin in a recorded call provided to the Journal.
"If we got into a partnership with you and your colleagues …. when the vaccine is available, they get vaccinated first," Caputo said.
"I cannot wait to tell the president," Caputo added. "He's going to love this."
Erwin had previously told the HHS that Christmas performers should have early access to vaccinations.
Caputo took medical leave in September after spreading wild conspiracies about armed left-wing "hit squads" attacking Trump's inauguration.
Erwin called the HHS's backtrack "extremely disappointing," saying "this was our greatest hope for Christmas 2020, and now it looks like it won't happen."
The campaign would have cost taxpayers $250 million, and would have included television, radio, online, and podcast announcements, the Journal reported. It planned to "defeat despair, inspire hope, and achieve national recovery."
The performers would have appeared at campaign events in 35 cities, which would raise awareness of the importance of vaccination. Nearly 100 Santas had volunteered to take part, Erwin said.
Erwin now plans to cancel all but one Christmas booking this year if he is unable to access a vaccine, he told the Journal.
HHS did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment.
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