PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The supply chain issue has hit Santa Claus. Literally. As we rapidly approach the holiday season, there is a Santa shortage across the country. HireSanta.com books Santas — aka Santa’s friends or helpers — for events across the country.

Head Elf Mitch Allen said there are about 15% fewer Santas this year, yet the demand is 120% over pre-pandemic levels. There are many reasons, he said, including aging out, but COVID-19 appears to be the primary culprit.

Many Santas are still apprehensive about having young children who aren’t vaccinated sit on their laps. On a grimmer note, Allen said many of Santa’s helpers died over the past year due to the coronavirus.

“Unfortunately, we’ve lost a number of terrific Santa Claus entertainers over the last few months, primarily due to COVID,” Allen said. “As you can imagine, our Santas are in a high-risk group for a negative outcome if they get COVID. So, we had a number of Santas that passed away over the last 18 months.”

Age and weight tend to put Santa at high risk for severe illness from the coronavirus. Allen added that some Santas contracted COVID and are still dealing with the long-term effects. He said they have no additional Santas for the first two weekends in December. Many Santas are doing virtual visits again, he said.

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Comedian Conan O’Brien sits on the lap of Santa Claus in Seattle, December 2017 (Credit: KOIN, file)

Dalani Gray, who owns Portland Santa, said they are still “on edge” because of COVID cases. As a result, they are mainly doing virtual visits with their Santas this year. They will not be in any local malls or big events, she said.

Over the years, Gray has had a few Santas retire, but age is the main concern regarding COVID with her Santas. The few events they have planned will involve many COVID safety measures, including social distancing and vaccination requirements for adults.

Last year, many mall owners banned kids from sitting on Santa’s knee. Instead, some owners required kids to tell Santa what they want for Christmas from six feet away, and sometimes from behind a sheet of plexiglass. Santa and his visitors also wore face masks, often even while posing for photos. And some malls put faux gift boxes and other decorations in front of Saint Nick to block kids from charging toward him.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.