News ID: 275925
Published: 0820 GMT October 26, 2020

US health agency halts coronavirus ad campaign, leaving Santa Claus in the cold

US health agency halts coronavirus ad campaign, leaving Santa Claus in the cold

A federal health agency halted a public-service coronavirus advertising campaign funded by $250 million in taxpayer money after it offered a special vaccine deal to an unusual set of essential workers: Santa Claus performers.

As part of the plan, a top Trump administration official wanted the Santa performers to promote the benefits of a COVID-19 vaccination and, in exchange, offered them early vaccine access ahead of the general public, according to audio recordings. Those who perform as Mrs. Claus and elves also would have been included, reported.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said the Santa plan would be scrapped. The deal was the brainchild of the official, Michael Caputo, an HHS assistant secretary, who took a 60-day medical leave last month. The rest of the campaign now is under an HHS review.

The Santa “collaboration will not be happening,” and HHS Secretary Alex Azar had no knowledge of Caputo’s outreach discussions, an HHS spokesman said. Caputo didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Ric Erwin, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas, called the news “extremely disappointing,” adding: “This was our greatest hope for Christmas 2020, and now it looks like it won’t happen.”

The decision comes as the COVID-19 spread continues to accelerate in most states, and the vaccines are unlikely to be broadly available to the public before the holiday season.

The coronavirus ad effort — titled “COVID-19 Public Health and Reopening America Public Service Announcements and Advertising Campaign” — was intended to “defeat despair, inspire hope and achieve national recovery,” according to a work statement reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. It was to include television, radio, online and podcast announcements, starting immediately.

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