Recently, I came across two high-profile Twitter accounts sharing a meme insinuating that parents who have children with nut allergies are hesitant to give the coronavirus vaccine to their children. The author of the tweet, Bette Midler, so eloquently says, “Vaccinate, or I’m bringing the Jiffy.”
To date, this tweet is still standing and has been retweeted over 2,600 times with over 19,000 likes. Bette Midler has a following of two million on Twitter, so one can only imagine how many impressions this tweet has garnered. I am not aware of any research that asserts that parents who have children with food allergies are less likely to vaccinate their children than their non-allergic peers. Research does show that both kids and adults are embarrassed and bullied due to food allergies. When Bette makes this kind of false comparison, and it is shared widely, this can lead to false assumptions and stigmatization of both the food allergy child and adult.
For years now, there have been comments linking allergic children to the vaccine debate. These comments are directed at food allergic parents from both ends of the spectrum. Those parents who vaccinate their children say if you can ban a food like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from entering school, you should be able to ban unvaccinated children from attending school. Those who don’t vaccinate their kid say they are protecting their children from harm, likening themselves to allergy parents are protecting their kids from an allergic food. I need to repeat: The allergic child fits nowhere in this debate.
A child is born with a food allergy. They do not choose to have their immune system compromised. Parents do not get the choice to opt-in or out of having their child’s body recognize ordinary food as a threat. Food allergies are a unique disease in that we need the help of those around us to keep our children safe. Let us remember that children, especially when they are young, often cannot protect themselves. A young child also may not truly understand the potential danger of sharing food with a friend. This is why food allergy education is critical for both teaching staff and students. But such education is often lacking.
There are currently no options given to allergic parents like a vaccination to eradicate any food allergies. Allergic parents have enough to worry about, like keeping our children alive and safe every day. I wish we could select not to have a food allergy or to be able to have the choice to give a shot to protect our children from anaphylaxis.
As food-allergic parents, we are fearful every day when we send our children out into the world that they might not come home. While living through a pandemic, we and need a world that shares more facts and not baseless assumptions. We also need more empathy and compassion towards those who may need assistance for whatever condition they are facing. We all win when we look out for one another.
Lianne Mandelbaum is founder, the No Nut Traveler, and can be reached on Twitter @nonuttraveler.
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