Mall Santas Could Be Among First to Receive COVID-19 Vaccine

September 1, 2020 by Dan McCue
Santa Ric Irwin

If there is a COVID-19 vaccine by Christmas, Santa Claus — and his fellow frontline seasonal workers — could be among the first to receive it.

After appearing before the Centers for Disease Control Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices last week, Ric Erwin, chairman, of the board of directors of the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas, informed his members this weekend that the panel agreed to provide early vaccinations to all “frontline” seasonal workers.

Better still, the ebullient “Santa” Ric said, the committee wants the Santas to play “a major role” in the upcoming national vaccine rollout.

“We will appear in 35 cities nationwide, alongside NBA and NFL players, and tons of other celebrities,” Erwin said in a Facebook post Friday night.

The response to the announcement was immediate.

“Great work, my brother in red,” one said.

“Sign me up,” said another.

The fate of Christmas 2020 — the first of the coronavirus era — has been something of an obsession for the members of the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas.

In fact, they devoted their entire summer newsletter to the subject. When it went to press, there was scant guidance on what the holiday season might look like this year, and in his lead editorial, Erwin conceded “It’s not a top priority right now for many millions of Americans.”

Still, he said, Santas and other seasonal workers did have to think about it.

“Some will transition to mainly online visits, either with their legacy clients, on behalf of an app or agency, or by marketing themselves locally via the web,” Erwin wrote. “Me? I find myself firmly in the ‘Sleigh half full’ camp.

“Yes, America faces unprecedented existential threats right now, but we are still America. United, we can’t lose,” he said.

Erwin noted that as of his writing at least three promising vaccines were undergoing testing, and he expressed his hope that a decline in COVID-19 cases by the end of the year would lead to a lifting of many of the remaining social restrictions by Christmas.

“If past is prologue, American families will do what it takes to end a bad year on a good note,” Erwin said.

As Santa Ric explained both to the advisory panel and The Well News last week, his 501(c)7 organization has a long history of lobbying state and federal agencies whenever significant issues have called for it.

In 2009, he recalled, the Christmas season was under serious threat from the H1N1 epidemic, with a vaccine approved, but not yet available to the public.

Just as they did this year, the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas led the industry in petitioning for early access to the vaccine on behalf of frontline season workers.

“Our efforts were admittedly reliant upon media support and public pressure … but it worked,” Erwin said.

Armed with only his letter to the CDC, FDA, Department of Health and Human Services and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, Erwin said he went directly to the vaccine’s manufacturer and got his H1N1 shot.

“This was during or shortly after its Tier 1 release, and nearly a full month before Tier 3,” he said. “Following my example, Order members in other parts of the country were able to do the same, and cumulatively, we were able to provide vaccinated Santas to nearly all major events and locations that year — not to mention the countless private parties that were saved.”

Erwin said given the isolation and stress people have experienced since the onset of the pandemic in March, “Christmas will be more important to the American psyche than ever before.”

“That’s why we are asking that professional Santas and other frontline seasonal workers be granted early access to the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as practicable after Tier 1 release,” he said.

Erwin went on to justify his request by noting that professional Santas place themselves in close, personal contact with as many as 15,000 people every holiday season, and that its target demographic — young children — “are notorious distribution vectors for all things infectious.”

“In addition, most professional Santas are in the most-at-risk category of catching and suffering the worst effects of the virus, due to advanced age or underlying medical issues,” he said. “Despite all this, Americans are going to want Santa to be at Christmas 2020.”

He is scheduled to speak with the Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday. The Centers for Disease Control did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

Last month, federal health officials asked four states — California, Florida, Minnesota, North Dakota — and one city — Philadelphia — to develop plans to transport and store COVID-19 vaccine and prioritize which individuals will get the first doses.

Those plans will be shared with other states to help them with vaccine distribution planning.

The United States is planning the largest vaccination campaign ever undertaken, a massive proposition requiring coordination, planning and a massive public awareness campaign.

Officials hope that by January, the government will be on track to deliver tens of millions of vaccine doses to the general public.

On August 14, the Defense and Health and Human Services departments announced that McKesson Corp. will be a central distributor of COVID-19 vaccines and related supplies.

The CDC is executing an existing contract option of $178 million with McKesson to support vaccine distribution. McKesson also distributed the H1N1 vaccine during the 2009-2010 pandemic.

McKesson will work under CDC’s guidance to ship vaccines to sites where shots will be administered, the statement said.

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