Shots: Figuring Injections in Food Allergic Life

Presented at the Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S) meeting, Denver, CO, November 2015

Abstract: This talk will explore the varied meanings of injections for people with food allergies by examining the food allergy advocacy community’s response to the winter 2014-15 measles outbreak, centered in Disneyland, California. This episode, occurring in the midst of over a year of ongoing ethnographic research, brings into relief the moral and cultural significance of two very different kinds of shots: epinephrine auto-injectors, which are considered a “rescue medication” to be used only during acute allergic reactions, and vaccinations, which are a part of standard, long-term preventive health care. The measles outbreak caused many in this community to worry that the general public would equate their advocacy work to protect children with life-threatening food allergies by expanding access to epinephrine auto-injectors with the belligerence of parents resistant to standard vaccination schedules who were blamed for the outbreak. Whereas epinephrine auto-injectors signify the obligation to care for oneself and for others with food allergies, tinkering with vaccination recommendations is seen by many in this community as a choice that endangers other children and immune-compromised people. Ultimately, this episode highlights how ongoing debates in the US about the obligations and limits of motherly care and the power of individuals to make judgments about the risk of common medical recommendations touch down in one illness community as a conflict between the duty to protect one’s neighbors versus the right to make individual choices about bodily health.