Muppet feud: Elmo got a COVID-19 vaccination, Ted Cruz responded

(AP Photo/Victoria Will, File)

Here we go again. Sesame Street has been in the business of educating children for decades. Besides the basics like ABCs and learning about life in general, sometimes the lessons include messages meant to reach parents of young children. Such is the case of vaccinations. Long before there was a COVID-19 pandemic, Big Bird was encouraging children (and their parents) to get vaccinated.

Last year Big Bird addressed COVID-19 vaccines. He encouraged children 5 – 11 to get vaccinated when the vaccines became available for that age group. Availability of the vaccines was welcome news to parents waiting for the time their children could get vaccinated. Sesame Street held a town hall type of event with CNN and delivered the message to anxious parents that the vaccine was safe for their children. Big Bird is six years old so he qualified for the vaccine and he had some questions. Dr. Sanjay Gupta and CNN anchor Erica Hill moderated.

Because the COVID-19 pandemic was so quickly politicized, vaccines became a hot button issue for adults and children. Politicians raised money on being pro or anti vaccines. The CNN event with Sesame Street brought charges of propaganda from Senator Ted Cruz.

I don’t know if Cruz’s two daughters are vaccinated or not ( but I know how I would guess) and I imagine the response was due to the uncertainty of vaccines for such young children when they have been shown to be the least at-risk group for COVID-19. I get it. Frankly, I’m glad my son is an adult and making his own medical decisions.

Fast forward to today. This time it is Elmo who is getting a COVID-19 vaccination. Elmo is only 3 1/2 years old. His message was to encourage very young children – those under 5 years of age – to get vaccinated against COVID-19, too. The vaccine has been available to the very youngest children for weeks. The message was aimed at parents, clearly, and Elmo’s dad, Louie, asked questions that parents everywhere are asking. Is it really safe for such young children?

“I had a lot of questions about Elmo getting the covid vaccine. Was it safe? Was it the right decision? I talked to our pediatrician so I could make the right choice,” Louie says to the camera in a clip shared online Tuesday. “I learned that Elmo getting vaccinated is the best way to keep himself, our friends, neighbors and everyone else healthy and enjoying the things they love,” he adds, before hugging Elmo.

Again, Ted Cruz entered the Muppet fray.

As the press release at the bottom of his tweet indicates, this isn’t the first time Cruz (and others) have asked questions about COVID-19 vaccines for young children. He cites minimal risk for very young children. That’s something lots of parents think about when the question arises if they should get the youngest of children vaccinated. Some parents may be ok with vaccinating their 11 year old but not their 2 year old.

The Food and Drug Administration granted emergency-use authorization to coronavirus vaccines for young children this month. It cleared two vaccines — one by Moderna and the other by Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech — for smaller doses than adults.

Cruz, along with other Republicans, was seeking more answers from the government before the authorization of the vaccines for children in this age group. The Centers for Disease Control said in announcing its recommendation that the child vaccines have undergone “the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history.”

The FDA also said the shots are “safe” and “effective” but added that, along with the CDC, it would put several systems in place to “continually monitor COVID-19 vaccine safety and allow for the timely detection and investigation of potential safety concerns.”

According to the latest data from the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than 13 million child coronavirus cases have been reported since the pandemic began, making up almost 19 percent of all cases — with long-term impacts on children’s health and social well-being.

The Sesame Workshop issued a statement.

In a statement Tuesday, Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street, said the public service advertisement featuring Elmo was produced in partnership with the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics. The clip, broadcast in English and in Spanish, is part of a series of resources for parents and caregivers “to answer common questions in age-appropriate ways,” the organization said.

The nonprofit added that almost 5.7 million child cases of covid-19 were reported in the United States in 2022, “making vaccination an important step to protecting both kids and their families,” it said.

After stops and starts along the way to getting a vaccine approved for children ages 6 months to 4 years of age, the rollout for vaccines for the youngest children is different than for older children.

Vaccine rollout for children under 5 won’t look like the ones for older kids and adults, according to Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID response coordinator.

Instead of mass vaccination sites, other more familiar locations like doctor’s offices, health clinics, pharmacies, and children’s hospitals will administer most of the jabs because that’s what parents prefer, Jha wrote on Twitter.

“We want to build a response and an availability system that is responsive to parents’ needs and desires,” he said, adding that we’ll see more and more vaccines and appointments open up as sites receive their first orders, which were shipped last week.

Elmo “aggressively advocating” for vaccines is in line with Sesame Street’s history. Sesame Street has never shied away from weighing in on a range of social issues and that includes children’s health.

As with other medical decisions, it is a personal decision. Whether or not schools will mandate COVID-19 vaccines is the question now, and for what ages? That will be answered in the coming weeks as school boards prepare to go back to school for the fall semester.