Health Agency Calls Off COVID-19 Vaccine Ad Campaign Set to Feature Santa Claus

Tara C. Mahadevan
·2 min read

A federal health agency offered early access to coronavirus vaccines if Santas, Mrs. Clauses, and Christmas elves participated in a $250 million public service COVID-19 ad campaign— which is no more.

Paid for by taxpayer money, the ads were set to promote the benefits of vaccinations with the goal to recruit celebrities to urge Americans to get inoculated once a vaccine is available. However, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services told the Wall Street Journal that the plan has since been abandoned.

The campaign was conceived by Michael Caputo, a former H.H.S. assistant secretary. Caputo took medical leave last month after he denounced other federal health officials for “sedition” and made other bizarre allegations in a Facebook post.

A H.H.S. spokeswoman said that its director, Secretary Alex M. Azar II, “had no knowledge of these outreach discussions.”

According to the Journal, Caputo reached out to Ric Erwin, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas, in late August to ask if the organization’s members would participate in the initiative. Caputo was looking to run ads on TV, radio, social media, and podcasts, as well as host live events in 35 cities.

A recording of the pair’s conversation revealed that Erwin gladly accepted the proposal in exchange for early access to the vaccine: “If you and your colleagues are not essential workers, I don’t know what is,” Mr. Caputo says, to which Mr. Erwin replies, “Ho! Ho! Ho! I love you!”

Erwin also guaranteed to bring 50 fully outfitted Santas to an event in southern California, telling Caputo, “My friend, we will pull this sleigh uphill ourselves if we have to.”

He also told the Journal that he thought the campaign’s cancellation was “extremely disappointing.”

The actors who play Santas are having a tough season as many stores have called off seasonal exhibits where children visit with Santa and share their Christmas wishes. Stores are afraid these displays could become superspreader events— not to mention that many Santa actors are at a higher risk to contract the virus since they tend to be elderly and overweight and are immunocompromised due to heart disease and diabetes.

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