Is Santa Real? You Had Better Believe It, Say Top Immunologists.

Photo: ABC News. Dr. Anthony Fauci thinks the US could achieve some kind of herd immunity by late 2021, thanks to the arrival of Covid-19 vaccines.
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Adrianna Rodriguez Grace Hauck (USA TODAY)

Santa Claus will be coming to the Caribbean this year. And he’s not bringing COVID-19.

At least, that’s the word from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert.

“Santa is exempt from this because Santa, of all the good qualities, has a lot of good innate immunity,” Fauci told USA TODAY this week.

It should come as no surprise. As children already know, Santa is superhuman. He flies around the world in one night, delivers millions of toys and eats his weight in cookies.

But with millions of Americans already sick with COVID-19, children have been worried about Santa, especially this Christmas Eve when he visits millions of homes. And there’s no denying that Santa, because he is older and overweight, would at first glance appear to be at higher risk of developing severe disease from COVID-19.

Fauci is telling kids not to worry, though. “Santa is not going to be spreading any infections to anybody,” he said.

Santa has also been taking coronavirus precautions. He’s been making few appearances this holiday season, and he is social distancing. For example, he’s taking more Zoom calls, and his limited visits to stores and malls will mostly be behind glass.

“Santa does not want the kids to line up waiting to see him because he doesn’t want to spread germs. Santa gets sad if the kids or their families are sick,” said Dr. Gina Song, a pediatrician at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital in Geneva, Illinois. “So this year, Santa will be watching you from afar, giving you the gift of good health and will only visit when no one is around on Christmas Eve.”

History tells us that, even if Santa is in fact immune to COVID-19, he is vulnerable to a different illness: the flu. He’s gotten sick from it in the past. More than a hundred years ago, on Dec. 6, 1918, the St. Paul Daily News announced that “SANTA CLAUS IS DOWN WITH THE FLU.” That year, Santa was unable to attend many of his big department store visits.

So doctors say it’s important for Santa – and kids – to get the flu shot this year, as well as a COVID-19 vaccine, when one becomes available. That will help hospitals avoid a winter “twindemic” of the two illnesses, which would further strain health care professionals already stretched thin.

Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said he hopes Santa gets vaccinated for the coronavirus when a vaccine is available, given his underlying risk factors and exposures.

“I hear the ventilation in Santa’s workshop is not the best, and opening windows in North Pole winters problematic. The good news is that mask compliance there is pretty good, and the elves are committed to social distancing. Mrs. Claus has implemented a program of regular testing and the reindeers now lead contact tracing,” Hotez said.

Dr. Greg Poland, director of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group, declared he had just gotten off the phone with the North Pole when he spoke Thursday with USA TODAY. There had been two infections among the elves, but “none of them serious,” he said.

“It was a good reminder to the elves about wearing the mask properly. They now do that. It’s mandatory in the North Pole,” Poland said.

There have been two rounds of testing, and the elves have spaced out their work stations, Poland said. Toy production is on schedule. No reindeer are sick because they cannot contract COVID-19, Poland said. Santa has canceled his annual Christmas Day celebration this year “because they want everybody to be safe,” Poland said.

“Let’s do the same thing that Santa and the elves are doing. We stay home if we’re not feeling well. When we go outside of the home, we wear a mask and wash our hands,” he said.

It’s also important to maintain a positive outlook this holiday season, Poland said.

“Christmas is really about what’s in our hearts, and a pandemic can’t take that away from us,” Poland said.

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