I have an inherent understanding of those who are vaccine hesitant.
My pediatric allergist referred to me as “the allergy poster child.” I’ve suffered anaphylactic shock from food, medication, and vaccines. I’ve had allergic reactions in front of my children. I’ve had them while driving my children. I’ve injected myself with EpiPens and been tethered to IVs of Benadryl more times than I can count.
As soon as it is available to me, I’m getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
I am 100% pro-vaccine, but I have an inherent understanding of those who are vaccine hesitant. I’m on my fourth round of allergy shots, which I started at age six. Each round has resulted in severe reactions, the most recent of which occurred two months ago, in front of my child.
When I get the Covid vaccine, I will likely have a reaction.
In high school, I had such a reaction to a hepatitis vaccine that I wasn’t able to receive another until I was in my 30s.
And none of those reactions compare to the ones I’ve had to food. The list of food and environmental allergies I have is longer than a CVS receipt, but the most difficult one of all is celery. I am deathly allergic. One tiny piece will make my airway swell shut. Once, at a restaurant, I drank water out of a bar glass that had been previously used to make a Bloody Mary, and the residue of celery salt around the rim was enough to cause a reaction. To be clear, the glass had been washed. It didn’t matter.
Celery allergy is rare in the U.S., but common in Eastern Europe and the UK. So common, it’s comparable to peanut allergies in North America. In the EU and UK, celery is listed as a main allergen and must be included on food labels when it’s used. Even so, celery tends to hide. Braised meats and red sauces often start with a mirepoix of carrot, onion and celery that you can’t see in the finished dish. Broths include celery, and many restaurants poach seafood in broth to add flavor. Dry rubs, salad dressings, and spice mixes often include celery salt or celery seed, and don’t get me started on juice and smoothies. Celery juice is the cure-all elixir of the moment, even for the mainstream, despite the fact that there is no scientific evidence to support its supposed health benefits.
While there’s no proof that celery provides any benefit outside of being a healthy snack, here’s what we do know: Eating it can kill people. It can kill me. It WILL kill me.
And there’s a chance it will kill you.
I wasn’t always allergic to celery. I ate it like everyone else until one day, when I was sixteen, I ate it and almost died. But I didn’t know at the time that it was celery that was causing the reaction. I had to eat it several more times and have several more reactions before learning that it was the celery inside the seafood dip and the celery seed in the Caesar salad dressing and invisible mirepoix in the red sauce that was trying to kill me. I wasn’t allergic to it until I was. Beware, your next over-priced juice may be the death of you.
Anyone can have a reaction to anything. When I get the Covid vaccine, I will likely have a reaction of some kind. I have a number of friends and families members who work in health care and have received the vaccine, and they’ve all reported mild to moderate side effects:
- Arm soreness
- Upset stomach
- Body aches
- Asthma flare up
- Stuffy nose
Most symptoms appeared the following day and lasted 24 hours. Some reported that their side effects occurred three days after they received the shot. The recipients include my mother, Levon’s grandmother, my aunt, my neighbor, several close friends who work as doctors, physician’s assistants, and NICU therapists, and multiple co-workers of each. It’s a small sampling for sure, but a sampling from people that I trust. People who were not necessarily excited about the vaccine. As one friend explained, “I didn’t want to get the vaccine, but working where I do and knowing what I know, the vaccine is 100% less terrifying than Covid.” Another added, “Knowing that the side effects were going to be short lived and less severe than an actual Covid-19 infection made it all worth it.”
Twice a week, I get an allergy shot in each arm. Sometimes they cause life-threatening reactions and sometimes they don’t, but I do them in an effort to reduce my risk of illness caused by allergens that threaten me on a daily basis. I’m taking the same approach in regards to Covid.
When I get the Covid vaccine, I will do so in my doctor’s office, not in a pharmacy. If I have a reaction, a team of doctors and nurses will be there to treat me. If I have a reaction days later, it will likely be mild. I am taking the shot and risking a reaction to reap the proven benefits of the vaccine and to protect those around me who are unable to be vaccinated. Which seems as logical as drinking an $8 proven killer in hopes of transforming into Gwyneth Paltrow, don’t you think?
Jessica Butler is the co-founder of Raise, stepmother of two, and adoptive mother of one. Prior to Raise, she was a writer on USA’s "In Plain Sight" and TNT’s "The Last Ship." She and her husband, writer/producer Warren Bell, co-created the Nick at Nite series "Instant Mom," based on her life as a stepmother. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and six-year-old son, Levon.