A federal health agency on Friday nixed a plan by a Trump administration official to provide Santa Claus performers early COVID-19 vaccine access in exchange for their participation in a controversial federal public service campaign, a new report said.
Under the Santa plan, drawn up by Michael Caputo, an assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, the St. Nick lookalikes would have promoted the benefits of a coronavirus vaccine at rollout events in dozens of cities, according to phone recordings obtained by The Wall Street Journal.
Ric Erwin, the chairman of the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas, told the newspaper that Caputo outlined the plan to him on a late August phone call.
Erwin said about 100 Santas had agreed to participate in the plan with the anticipation they would receive COVID-19 vaccines before Thanksgiving.
But the proposed collaboration, which President Trump was reportedly never informed of, was scrapped Friday by HHS.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar was unaware of the outreach performed by Caputo, who took a 60-day medical leave last month, an HHS spokesman told the Journal.
Erwin, in an interview with the newspaper, called the decision to scrap the plan “extremely disappointing.
“This was our greatest hope for Christmas 2020, and now it looks like it won’t happen,” he said.
The HHS also announced Friday the agency is reviewing its entire ad campaign that was expected to use television, radio and podcasts for coronavirus-related public service announcements.
Azar “ordered a strategic review of this public health education campaign that will be led by top public health and communications experts to determine whether the campaign serves important public health purposes,” HHS officials said in a statement to the paper.
Critics have blasted the $250 million HHS-lead ad blitz, claiming the taxpayer-funded plan will try to put a positive spin on the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic.
Actor Dennis Quaid also took heat for filming a spot in the campaign.
After news broke of his involvement, Quaid had said he was not paid for his role in a video where he urged people to wear masks and social distance.
“It was in no way political,” he had said in an Instagram post.
Mark Weber, HHS’s deputy assistant secretary, shared similar sentiments in a statement to the Journal.
“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,” Weber wrote.
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