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The coronavirus might not be the worst of it
The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Big Bird got his Pfizer shot, and conservatives are calling it vaccine ‘propaganda’

The cast of “Sesame Street.” (Mark Mann for The Washington Post)
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A previous version of this article incorrectly said that 66 children died of covid-19 in the United States since the beginning of the pandemic. There were 66 children ages 5 to 11 who died of covid-19 in the United States between Oct. 3, 2020, and Oct. 2 of this year. This article has been corrected.

Big Bird, like scores of American 6-year-olds, became eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine last week. On Saturday, he announced he had lined up for his shot.

“My wing is feeling a little sore, but it’ll give my body an extra protective boost that keeps me and others healthy,” the big, feathered yellow bird, who is eternally 6 years old, wrote on Twitter.

“Good on ya, @BigBird. Getting vaccinated is the best way to keep your whole neighborhood safe,” President Biden tweeted in response.

The announcement ruffled feathers among some conservatives, however.

“Government propaganda … for your 5-year-old!” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) tweeted.

Almost a year after their parents and grandparents became eligible, young U.S. children are now signing up for vaccine doses to protect them from the virus that upended their childhoods, in many cases keeping them away from schools, playdates and vacations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed off last week on smaller doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. One Texas children’s hospital averaged 1,000 appointments an hour when it opened sign-ups after the FDA green light, The Washington Post reported.

Cruz is vaccinated and has said he supports vaccines, but he is opposed to any federal mandates. The governor in his state, Greg Abbott (R), recently banned any entity — including private businesses — from mandating coronavirus vaccines for workers or customers.

It isn’t the first time “Sesame Street” has deployed its puppet characters to dispense coronavirus advice or to promote vaccines. Some Twitter users pointed out that Big Bird and other popular children’s TV personalities have been used in child immunization campaigns dating back to the 1970s.

Other conservative commentators also weighed in on Big Bird’s announcement. Lisa Boothe, a Fox News contributor, tweeted that “Brainwashing children who are not at risk from covid” was “twisted.”

Others sided with the feathered puppet: “I stand with Big Bird” was trending on social media.

Throughout the pandemic, public health experts and other observers have often noted that children are less likely to develop severe illness from the virus. Even so, children can infect others, and infections in the 5-to-11 age group are rising, the CDC said last month. Scores of children have lost parents and caregivers to the disease. Sixty-six children in that age group died of covid-19 in the United States from October 2020 to October of this year. .

Resistance to vaccines remains fierce in some parts of the country, where factions have organized against pandemic measures including masking, business restrictions and mandatory vaccinations.

A federal appeals court in New Orleans suspended the Biden administration’s new vaccination requirement for private companies, delivering a major blow for one of the White House’s signature attempts to increase the number of vaccinations to corral the pandemic.

Former Trump adviser Steve Cortes was among those who criticized Big Bird’s vaccine advocacy on Twitter. “This kind of propaganda is actually evil,” tweeted Cortes, who now works for the conservative website Newsmax. “Your children are not statistically at risk, and should not be pressured into a brand new treatment. Do Not Comply!”