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By Gabriella Borter
(Reuters) - Santa Claus, vaccinated against COVID-19 and free of quarantine restrictions mere mortals face, was making his annual jaunt across the globe on Christmas Eve and being tracked by the U.S. and Canadian military, officials said on Thursday.
Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease official, said Santa was vaccinated against COVID-19 and could travel without risk of infection.
"I took a trip up there to the North Pole. I went there and I vaccinated Santa Claus myself," Fauci said during Sesame Street's coronavirus town hall meeting on CNN this week. "He is good to go."
The director of Maine's public health department said on Thursday his agency received a lab report from the North Pole confirming that Santa had antibodies and was negative for the virus.
"Data show that the vaccine he received from Dr. Fauci is working," Dr. Nirav Shah wrote on Twitter.
Vermont Governor Phil Scott lifted his state's quarantine restrictions for Santa, and the governors of New Jersey and New Mexico awarded Santa "essential worker" status.
"Effective IMMEDIATELY, Santa and Mrs. Claus, with their elves and reindeer – including Rudolph – are permitted to fly in and around New Jersey from Christmas Eve into Christmas morning," New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy wrote on Twitter.
For the 65th year, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), a joint U.S. and Canadian command, was tracking Santa on his reindeer-powered sleigh journey. NORAD was providing real-time animated updates online https://www.noradsanta.org and answering inquiries from children on a Santa hotline.
"Because of the COVID pandemic we have had to adjust how we do business here to make sure everybody stays safe," said Vice Admiral Michael Dumont of the U.S. Air Force, saying the number of volunteers involved was down from the usual 1,500.
The tradition began in 1955 when a girl hoping to phone Santa accidentally dialed the agency. U.S. Air Force Colonel Harry Shoup answered the call and assured the girl that Santa was en route.
(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)