WASHINGTON — Sesame Street has been encouraging youngsters to get vaccinated for decades — since Sen. Ted Cruz was a 2-year-old, in fact.
Even so, the Texas Republican has taken aim at Big Bird for promoting COVID-19 vaccines for kids, calling it “government propaganda…for your 5 year old!” after the canary-like 8-foot 2-inch Muppet proclaimed Saturday that he’d gotten the jab.
Cruz’s claim has liberals ready to tar and feather him.
The Muppets have been promoting COVID-19 shots since the FDA approved the Pfizer/BioNTech formulation last week for kids 5-11. They’ve been promoting vaccinations in general for decades.
Big Bird, Elmo and Oscar the Grouch have been part of an outreach effort that included a town hall on CNN on Saturday morning — the Muppets’ sixth such special since the pandemic began. Afterward, Big Bird tweeted: “I got the COVID-19 vaccine today! My wing is feeling a little sore, but it’ll give my body an extra protective boost that keeps me and others healthy.”
Yes, Big Bird doesn’t just squawk, he tweets, to 247,000 followers. He even has a blue check mark indicating it’s really him.
Cruz has 4.6 million followers — and political ambitions that include sitting behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.
His tweet came hours later. He has not said why promotion of vaccines amount, in his view, to propaganda. Aides did not elaborate Monday.
News organizations dusted off a clip of Big Bird talking up vaccines in 1972. He notices a line of kids but no candy and in his timelessly childlike voice explains: “There’s a sign that says Don’t Wait — Vaccinate.”
Shortly after Cruz’s big missive, a fan page called @HistoryMuppet posted a photo of Big Bird in 1976 holding a sign that reads “Big Bird’s Sesame Street Childhood Immunization Campaign!”
“What Sesame Street did today is nothing new for them,” the account tweeted to its 215,000 followers.
As for the “government” part of Cruz’s complaint, Sesame Workshop gets only a small fraction of its funding from federal grants and no government official controls its content.
Entities with far bigger budgets that rely almost entirely on federal largesse have been more active in promoting vaccination, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health.
“COVID vaccines are now available for children 5 years and older, and the more people who get them, the better we’re going to be able to stop the spread of COVID, and keep everyone healthy,” Dr. Sanjay Gupta tells Rosita, a Band-Aid on her furry Muppet arm, on a public service announcement.
Cruz isn’t the only figure on the right incensed by Big Bird’s outreach.
“Brainwashing children who are not at risk from COVID. Twisted,” Fox News host Lisa Boothe fumed on Twitter.
Jason Rantz, a Seattle-based conservative radio host, insisted that “Big Bird is spreading misinformation. He didn’t get the vaccine. He’s lying” – presumably because, as others pointed out, Big Bird isn’t real.
President Joe Biden, however, embraced the reinforcements.
“Good on ya, @BigBird. Getting vaccinated is the best way to keep your whole neighborhood safe,” he tweeted.
Good on ya, @BigBird. Getting vaccinated is the best way to keep your whole neighborhood safe.
— President Biden (@POTUS) November 8, 2021
Tweeters have roasted Cruz for his big missive.
Some wondered how a stance against mandatory vaccination has somehow morphed into opposition to helping kids overcome fear of injections or to simply amplifying the same message offered by Dr. Anthony Fauci.
The senator dug in, posting a gif Sunday night showing Big Bird smashing down a door, which he labeled “Big Bird coming over to vaccinate your kids.” Jesse Ferguson, a longtime Democratic strategist, retorted with an image of the Grim Reaper, labeled “Ted Cruz coming to give COVID to your children.”
Cruz has been railing against pandemic-related mandates for the duration of the pandemic, positioning himself as a defender of personal liberty and now, parental rights, and drawing jeers from public health experts along the way.
The next scene in this episode features Mr. Snuffleupagus telling Big Bird that he already got his shot, but he missed out on getting a balloon. The exchange that follows is an early rare occurrence of an adult seeing Snuffy… https://t.co/VS4ZqEg8VJ
— Muppet Wiki (@MuppetWiki) November 7, 2021
In early May 2020, he went to North Dallas for a haircut at Salon à la Mode, whose owner, Shelley Luther, had spent two days in jail for defying local emergency restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.
Luther had become a folk hero to conservatives, though Cruz detractors questioned why a law-and-order Republican would be so eager to embrace a lawbreaker.
In May, he introduced the No Vaccine Passports Act to stop the federal government from establishing COVID-19 vaccine passports or allowing private “passports” for use by airlines or other businesses.
In August, he introduced a bill that would end the Biden administration’s mask mandates on federal property and the CDC’s mask mandate on airplanes and trains.
Last week he introduced a bill to require parental consent before a minor can be vaccinated for COVID-19.
None of those bills have gained traction.
A month ago, Cruz blamed a federal vaccine mandate for thousands of Southwest Airlines flight cancellations — except the mandate still hasn’t taken effect. And Southwest blamed bad weather.
“Joe Biden’s illegal vaccine mandate at work!” he tweeted. “Suddenly, we’re short on pilots & air traffic controllers.”
At the time, Biden had announced plans to require employers with more than 100 workers to impose a vaccine mandate, or let workers show weekly proof of negative COVID status. But the rules hadn’t yet been written, and Cruz’s claim drew mockery from the White House.