Covid-19: US pulls plan to give early vaccine to Santa Claus

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Santa Claus waves from his flotat during the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, November 28, 2019Image source, Getty Images
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US health authorities planned to offer a vaccine to Santas as part of a $250m advertising campaign

The US has cancelled plans to offer Santa Claus performers early access to a coronavirus vaccine in exchange for their help in promoting it publicly.

Those who perform as Mrs Claus and elves would also have been eligible for the jabs.

The festive collaboration was part of a $250m (£192m) government campaign to garner celebrity endorsements of vaccinations once they are approved.

But health authorities confirmed the advertising campaign had been scrapped.

Ric Erwin, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas, called the news "extremely disappointing."

"This was our greatest hope for Christmas 2020, and now it looks like it won't happen," he told the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the story. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has since confirmed the existence of the Santa plan to the New York Times.

The idea was initially conceived by Michael Caputo, a former assistant secretary at the department. Mr Caputo announced last month that he would be going on leave, shortly after posting a video to Facebook where he accused government scientists of engaging in "sedition" against President Donald Trump.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Mr Caputo told Mr Erwin in August that a vaccine would be approved by mid-November and distributed to frontline workers by Thanksgiving, which falls on the last Thursday of November.

"If you and your colleagues are not essential workers, I don't know what is," Mr Caputo can be heard saying in a phone call recording released by the Wall Street Journal. Mr Erwin responds: "Ho! Ho! Ho!"

He also said on the call: "Since you would be doing Santa a serious favour, Santa would definitely reciprocate."

An HHS spokesperson told the New York Times that Health Secretary Alex Azar "had no knowledge" of the now-cancelled plan.

But Mr Erwin told the Wall Street Journal that health agency officials had promised to finalise the plan by mid-September, and nearly 100 Santas had volunteered.

"They may have been fibbing a little bit to Santa," he said.