Enlarge /. Even Santa Clauses aren't safe during the pandemic.
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The Department of Health and Human Services has dropped a contract to vaccinate Santa Claus cast members in a taxpayer-funded public relations flash worth $ 250 million, the Wall Street Journal reports.
According to the nixed Santa plan, the actors would have received particularly early access to a future vaccine against the pandemic coronavirus. In return, the Santa Clauses, womens kits and accompanying elves would have made the vaccine known to the public and attended regional holiday events organized by the Trump administration.
It's starting to look like chaos
The deal was reportedly brought about by Michael Caputo, the HHS spokesman appointed by the White House in April. Caputo had no health background when he took up the position. Instead, he was reportedly transferred to the department so that the Trump administration can gain more control over HHS Secretary Alex Azar. Caputo is a Trump loyalist, protégé of Roger Stone and a former political advisor in Moscow who worked on public relations for Vladimir Putin.
In September, Caputo said goodbye to the department after a series of bizarre and alarming comments. For example, in a live Facebook video earlier this month, Caputo claimed that government scientists are engaging in "riot" and that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is home to a "resistance unit." He also long mentioned "shadows" in his DC apartment and warned that left-wing "hit squads" were preparing a post-election armed riot. He noted that his "sanity has definitely failed". In an equally impressive HHS podcast, Caputo downplayed the coronavirus but spoke insistently about the death toll from the pandemic and how doctors are traumatized when they "drown in their own fluids" for COVID-19 patients.
Despite his brief tenure at HHS, Caputo made headlines about his role in meddling and censoring the CDC public health guidelines and scientific reports in the health crisis. Another standout feature of his time in the department is the transfer of $ 300 million, previously earmarked by Congress for the CDC, to HHS for a nationwide campaign to fight desperation.
Miracles on COVID-19th Street
Of the money taken from the world's leading health agency during a historic public health crisis, $ 250 million went to a contract with Fors Marsh Group, a research and communications company in Arlington, Virginia. The company should help with the central role of the campaign for video interviews between celebrities and administrative officials who would discuss the pandemic and the federal response.
Caputo and his team initially hoped to include well-known figures such as Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, and Bon Jovi. But much of the plan fell apart due to the disorganization and tepid interest of these celebrities. The biggest name they could grapple with was Dennis Quaid, who filmed an interview with foremost infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci. However, Quaid dropped out after his interview was viewed as confirmation from Trump. "I'm a little outraged and very disappointed," said Quaid in a video posted on Instagram. Regarding the false confirmation, he added, "Nothing could be further from the truth."
Current and former HHS employees also saw Caputo's marketing campaign as just a PR push to support Trump's re-election campaign.
But before things went south, Caputo also intended to include a Christmas miracle in the campaign. Merry Santas would advocate holly jolly vaccines and, in return, skip the vaccine line.
In a conversation with Ric Erwin, the chairman of the fraternal order of the real bearded Santa Clauses, Caputo could hardly hold back his joy in the plan. "Unless you and your colleagues are essential contributors, I don't know what it is," Caputo said on the call recorded by Erwin and made available to the WSJ. "I can't wait to tell the president," said Caputo about the plan at another point. "He'll love this."
Erwin, in turn, seemed excited to be part of the plan and to work with the administration: "Since you were doing Santa a serious favor, Santa would definitely return the favor," said Erwin.
"I'll be there, Santa, when you're there," Caputo replied.
On the 12-minute call, Caputo claimed that a vaccine would be ready by mid-November and that frontline workers – which Caputo apparently also include Santas – could be vaccinated before Thanksgiving. Public health experts suggest that such a quick vaccination schedule is highly unlikely, if not impossible.
HHS informed the WSJ on Friday that the Santa plan had been abandoned and that the department was now reviewing Caputo's campaign. Secretary Azar has "ordered a strategic review of this public health awareness campaign, led by leading public health and communications experts, to determine whether the campaign is serving important public health purposes," HHS officials said in a Explanation.
When Erwin got the news, Erwin told the WSJ that it was "extremely disappointing … This was our greatest hope for Christmas 2020, and now it looks like it won't happen."
Erwin said nearly 100 Santa Clauses had signed up for the federal appearance, which he was told would be completed by mid-September. "You may have been messing around with Santa Claus," he added.