Santa and his helpers will no longer be among the first in line for a coronavirus vaccine. The Department of Health and Human Services has scrapped a plan to have Santa Clauses in dozens of cities promote the benefits of vaccination in return for early access to a vaccine, the Wall Street Journal reports. Ric Erwin, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas, says HHS assistant secretary Michael Caputo told him that a vaccine would be ready for frontline workers by Thanksgiving, and it would be made available to Santas, Mrs. Clauses, and elves involved in the campaign. Erwin says nearly 100 Santas volunteered for the assignment, which officials promised to finalize by mid-September.
In a recording of the call released by the Journal, Caputo told Erwin that "if you and your colleagues are not essential workers, I don’t know what is." The BBC reports that Erwin responded with "Ho, ho, ho!" Caputo is now on medical leave following a controversial rant on Facebook. Erwin says the cancelation is "extremely disappointing." He tells the Journal that members of the Santa organization are now looking at other options for the holiday season, including "photo opportunities with a Santa trapped in a COVID-safe snow globe." The Santa plan was to have been part of a $250 million ad campaign featuring celebrities promoting the vaccine and other public health measures. Officials say the campaign is now on hold pending a review. (Read more coronavirus vaccine stories.)