HHS scraps $250M COVID-19 Santa-themed ad campaign: 5 details

HHS canceled a $250 million public service COVID-19 advertising campaign that would have offered early access to vaccines for Santa Claus performers in exchange for promoting the benefits of the vaccination, according to an Oct. 25 Wall Street Journal report.

Five details:

1. HHS communications official Michael Caputo organized the ad campaign with the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas; Mr. Caputo is currently on a 60-day leave of absence from his post, which he began in September. The Buffalo News reported Sept. 24 that Mr. Caputo was diagnosed with a metastatic head and neck cancer.

2. On Oct. 23, HHS said the Santa ad campaign would be canceled and the rest of the campaign is under the agency's review, according to the Journal. A spokesperson said HHS Secretary Alex Azar was unaware of Mr. Caputo's outreach discussions.

3. The ad campaign, dubbed "COVID-19 Public Health and Reopening America Public Service Announcements and Advertising Campaign," was designed to "defeat despair, inspire hope and achieve national recovery," according to the report.

4. The campaign was to include TV, radio, online and podcast announcements, and Mr. Caputo had told Ric Erwin, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas, that the department would provide early vaccinations for performers portraying Santa, Mrs. Claus and elves at regional events for stirring awareness for COVID-19 vaccination drives in as many as 35 cities.

5. In September, after the contract award was published on USAspending.gov, Mr. Caputo told the Journal that the project would focus on various topics including encouraging minorities to join COVID-19 clinical trials.

Click here to view the full report.

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