With Black Friday and the official kick-off of holiday mania just a week away, Santas are gearing up for the season—and this year, that doesn’t just mean dusting off the red suit and beard. As they prepare to populate the malls, the Associated Press reports, Santas across the country are hoping for a little gift from U.S. public health officials—a chance to cut the line for the swine flu vaccine.
While Santa organizations such as Santa America and the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas have been warning their respective St. Nicks to take precautions this season—to ditch the furry gloves and carry Purell, for starters—advocates for the consortiums of Clauses say that, due to the elevated risk faced by their members, it makes sense to give them priority when it comes to vaccination. It’s not just hanging out with sniffling, coughing, runny-nosed kids all day that puts Santa at higher risk, they argue, but also the fact that, by nature, Santas’ bellies tend to be, well, like bowls full of jelly, and recent research suggests that obesity can increase the risk of severe complications and even death due to H1N1 infection. Ernest Berger, Chris Kringle-in-Chief at Santa America, told the AP that he estimates almost all U.S. Santas are overweight, and nearly a third are morbidly obese.
Berger approached Republican Congressman Jo Bonner last week, lobbying the Alabama representative to get Santas added to the priority list for H1N1 vaccination. (Bonner’s office confirmed to the AP that they were looking into the request.) Yet regardless of whether or not Santas successfully get to skip the line for shots, they are hopeful that this year’s good cheer will be tempered with some good sense. As Nicholas Trolli, president of the Real Bearded Santas, told the AP, “We don’t want any child to go without seeing Santa, but it’s not worth bringing your child to the mall, infecting the Santa and infecting the other children.” And Berger told NPR that hand sanitation will be incorporated into Santa visits:
“We’re going to make hand sanitizing a part of the Santa visit ritual. We want this to be a positive experience for our children and not detract from the joy of visiting with Santa.”