HHS Official’s Foolproof Plan To Have Mall Santas Promote Vaccines Somehow Falls Apart


Back in September, it was revealed that Michael Caputo of the Health and Human Services department took $300 million in taxpayer dollars from the CDC to produce a bunch of ads about what a fabulous job the Trump administration was doing with COVID-19 starring Dennis Quaid and gospel singer singer CeCe Winans. Then people got mad about that because they were basically taxpayer-funded campaign ads for Trump, and Dennis Quaid was all "Why are you cancel culturing me?" even though it wasn't about him and honestly what has he even been in lately anyway?

Anyway! That was not the only very stupid thing that Michael Caputo wanted to spend taxpayer dollars on. He came up with another plan as well. A plan to recruit mall Santas to promote a COVID-19 vaccine that does not currently exist.

And it is because of that plan that the whole PR blitz project, which included those ads and is titled "Covid 19 Public Health and Reopening America Public Service Announcements and Advertising Campaign," is being thrown out.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

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.

The Department of Health and Human Services said Friday 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 Mr. Caputo's outreach discussions, an HHS spokesman said. Mr. Caputo didn't respond to requests for comment.

Santa, reportedly, was not happy about it.

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."

How was this supposed to work? Like, the children of people who thought it would be a good idea to let their kids sit on Santa's lap this year would wait in line, go sit up there, get their picture taken, get asked if they've been a good boy or girl and what they were hoping Santa would bring them, and then the Santa would be like "OH, also you should get a coronavirus vaccine and if you don't you will get coal in your stocking!"

Not exactly. Caputo was going to give the Santas, elves and Mrs. Clauses early access to the vaccine in exchange for appearing in events featuring "beautiful educational films" that were meant to convince people to go get vaccinated, which will be really tough because although Dr. Anthony Fauci predicts that we may have one by late November or early December, it won't be available in mass quantities to the public for quite some time.

In a 12-minute phone call in late August, Mr. Caputo told Mr. Erwin of the Santa group that vaccines would likely be approved by mid-November and distributed to front-line workers before Thanksgiving.

"If you and your colleagues are not essential workers, I don't know what is," Mr. Caputo said on the call, which was recorded by Mr. Erwin and provided to the Journal. "I cannot wait to tell the president," Mr. Caputo said at another point about the plan. "He's going to love this."

Mr. Erwin said on the call: "Since you would be doing Santa a serious favor, Santa would definitely reciprocate."
Mr. Caputo said: "I'm in, Santa, if you're in."

Look, if you have a WSJ subscription, you're gonna need to click on over there now and actually listen to the phone call, because Caputo calls the guy Santa the whole time and then "Santa" literally says ho ho ho.

To Caputo's credit, it is not easy to come up with a plan so stupid that even the White House doesn't want to be associated with it.

"Mr. Kushner has had no role in the public relations campaign referenced here," but helped execute a strategy to educate the public about "critical mitigation techniques," said White House spokesman Brian Morgenstern. He also said Mr. Trump was never informed of the plan to use Santa performers.

It sure is amazing though, that Republicans call us wasteful for wanting people to have healthcare, while at the same time spending ridiculous amounts of money on things like this and moon bases and trips to Mars and what have you.

That's about the gist of that whole story, and while I could end it there, I am not going to because I need to indulge myself (and you) in a quick diversion.

Right now you are probably thinking to yourself "I'm sorry, did Robyn just gloss right over 'Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas' like it was nothing?" Be assured that I did not. And yes, it's a real thing, and yes, you have to have a real beard to join. Not one of them strap-on dealies.

But dig this. The Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas used to be the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas. But there was a feud, and thievery and a usurping of the title of President of the Santas and so, so much drama and they created a new group in the fall out.

From the old AORBS site, which only remains online to warn other Santas of the evil of the current AORBS group and to tell prospective Santas to go join FORBS instead. I am going to need to copy and paste this warning in full, because I am a messy bitch who lives for drama between obscure groups that I did not previously know even existed:

A lot of Santa organizations today owe their very existence to the group that started it all: the AMALGAMATED ORDER OF REAL BEARDED SANTAS. For nearly 13 years, it was THE place for nearly every professional Real-Bearded Santa in the world to meet others like himself, to grow & to learn. Then suddenly-- and quite incredibly-- our beloved AORBS was hijacked by a greedy manipulator and his not-so-gentle giant of a sidekick: NICHOLAS L. "NICK" TROLLI and JEFFREY G. GERMANN

Trolli (who we later learned had lied about ever appearing as a Santa Claus), was allowed to join the Interim Board of Directors-- where, from the very first day, he began his now-famous "whisper campaign"-- spreading false rumors about any Board Member who disagreed with him (or simply outranked him) until the Board Meetings became battlegrounds, and most of the volunteers simply decided they didn't need the grief, and quit-- WHEREUPON TROLLI DECLARED HIMSELF President-For-Life of AORBS!!!

He cancelled our group's State Charter in Montana, then used our name & logo to register a PRIVATE COMPANY in the State of Kentucky with THEMSELVES as its only two officers! THAT'S WHY THEY CALL THEMSELVES AORBS, INCORPORATED.

They stole every dime we had in our Treasury-- firing SIX Treasurers in FIVE MONTHS (just for asking to see AORBS' books). Next, they signed HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS WORTH of contracts in various states, which they KNEW FULLY WELL they had no way of fulfilling-- pocketing along the way HUGE cash signing bonuses & other up-front incentives, then simply disappearing, never again to answer another phone call or letter from their victims.

The growing number of complaints eventually prompted investigation by the Kentucky Attorney General-- at whose suggestion the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania formally & officially served AORBS, INCORPORATED with a Cease & Desist Order for illegal solicitation of charitable contributions.

The worst part of all was the fact that Trolli had aparently spent his adult life learning to USE THE LAW TO FACILITATE HIS CRIMES-- as demonstrated, for instance, by his afore-mentioned replacement of OUR Montana Non-Profit charter with HIS Kentucky CORPORATION charter! Even the coordinated last-minute efforts by dozens of senior AORBS members ultimately proved insufficient to prevent its demise in a cloud of controversy-- amid towering liabilities and civil & criminal rulings.

The sad & wretched wreck which remains of our once-proud organization is now a bankrupt company, still privately owned by those same two men-- and they still arrogantly call themselves AORBS,Inc.


How have I been living my whole life since 2007 not knowing about this? It's incredible. It's beautiful. You're welcome.

I'm gonna go spend an unhealthy number of hours reading about feuding Santa unions, but we'll be back in a few with your open thread and a return to Nice Things.

[Wall Street Journal]

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse


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