I have lived more than half my life with a peanut allergy. There I was, holding up the line at the fast food joint, asking the totally annoyed clerk: “What kind of oil are those fries cooked in?” I never touched a peanut butter sandwich in college, risking my life with the incomprehensible Russian Hot Pot in the cafeteria rather than eat one. Living in Ohio, land of the ubiquitous chocolate-peanut buckeye, did I eat one? No. Never. Not-a-one. Get behind me evil peanut butter cups.
Peanut allergies are really serious. People die from them. So my compulsive ingredient checking and avoidance was totally reasonable, right?
You see (and I am confessing this publicly for the first time), my peanut allergy is fake. F.A.K.E.
What? How did this happen? (Aside from my clearly being a little bit crazy?) My mother and sister both have a real peanut allergy and I, well, adopted it. Despite the fact that I have never tested positive for a peanut allergy, and the fact that not a single physician has ever told me to avoid peanuts, I created my own allergy. I avoided peanuts based on my own beliefs and fears, not because of any scientifically or medically sound reason. My kids? They have never touched a peanut and they are 3 and 5 years old because I am afraid they have acquired my peanut problem. The one that doesn’t exist.
I’m not going to lie. My fake peanut allergy really scared me. For years I carried an Epi-Pen in my purse, just in case I came across a peanut and my throat closed off and my lips blew up. Every time I read an article about a child dying of a peanut allergy (it was hidden in Rice Krispie Treats, it was used in the base of homemade chili, it was on the lips of a person she kissed), it reinforced my fear. I was making the right choice because peanuts are dangerous. But, of course, they aren’t inherently dangerous. Just dangerous for those select (and unfortunate) folks who are actually, medically, allergic.
Here’s the thing. The feelings and worries invoked by my non-existent peanut allergy are not so different from the fears and worries that vaccine-hesitant parents face. What if my child has a vaccine allergy? What if she develops autism because of that MMR shot? What if she develops a neurological disorder because I chose to give her that pertussis shot? The “what-ifs” go on and on. Celebrities like Jenny McCarthy tell you that her only son went from normally-developing to having autism, seemingly overnight, after receiving his vaccines. Other parents — even some physicians — tell you that vaccines are laden with mercury and other toxins and that your baby’s body cannot handle all those shots. What if you poison your child? When the apparent risks of vaccines are so public, and the diseases they protect against are often distant memories, it’s understandable why some parents hesitate. The fear of “what if” is just so powerful.
But like my peanut allergy, the fears of the vaccine-hesitant parent are misplaced. Science simply does not back up the most common fears vaccine-hesitant parents have. MMR does not cause autism. It is safe, and sound medicine, to give your baby all the recommended shots at the recommended time. The diseases your child is being vaccinated against can be terrible. This is accurate. It is scientific. It is based in reality.
Go get your baby vaccinated. It’s safe and its the right thing to do. And while you are doing that, I’ll be over here eating that Reese’s Cup (and loving it).