March 26, 2021 – Doughnut maker Krispy Kreme thrilled many this week when it announced that anyone in the U.S. who had received a COVID-19 vaccine could receive a free doughnut — as many as one a day, through the end of 2021.
"We all want to get COVID-19 behind us as fast as possible and we want to support everyone doing their part to make the country safe by getting vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available to them," said David Skena, Krispy Kreme's chief marketing officer, in a press release earlier this week.
And to confuse the issue further, Krispy Kreme also said that for those who "make the personal decision to not receive the COVID vaccine," they could still get a free doughnut and coffee on any Monday through May 24. "We're not here to judge. We're here to spread joy," a Krispy Kreme spokesperson said.
Soon after Krispy Kreme tweeted out its offer on Monday, Twitter erupted, and it became clear not everyone was pleased with the iconic brand, famous for its glazed doughnuts and its stores with the bright red signs that light up when a fresh batch comes off the conveyor belt.
Many thanked the company for providing an incentive for vaccination. Naysayers were quick to condemn the Charlotte, NC-based company for promoting poor nutrition, obesity, the ingestion of a sugary treat, and for giving a pass to those who didn't want to be vaccinated. There were tweets about the nanny state, fat-shaming, and misplaced priorities.
Others wanted America to just plain chill out.
N.J. Gym Owner Tries to Change the Narrative
Meanwhile, in New Jersey, a gym owner took different tact.
Ian Smith, whose Twitter bio says he is the co-owner of The Atilis Gym, in Bellmawr, said that in response to Krispy Kreme’s generosity, he would offer a free gym membership to “all who don’t get vaccinated.”
“We believe in health - the real way - exercise, good diet, plenty of Vitamin D, Zinc, and an environment to destress, tweeted Smith, whose bio also says he is a “Patriot. FREE MAN. Learner. Toxically Masculine.”
Smith first made news in May, when the state shut down his gym when he refused to do so himself as part of the state’s pandemic procedures.
Incentivizing Vaccinations With Doughnuts
Meanwhile, in the Krispy Kreme corner of Twitter, Leana Wen, MD, a former Baltimore, MD, city health commissioner, and current media gadfly, helped fire up the storm with her Twitter stream.
She applauded Krispy Kreme for its "out-of-the-box thinking," but noted that "doughnuts are a treat that's not good for health if eaten every day." In addition, if someone ate the Original Glazed daily without changing their diet or exercise regimen, "they'd gain approximately 15 pounds by the end of 2021," Wen tweeted.
The chief scientific officer of a company that has a weight loss-related program said Wen's comments weren't welcome. "Being an expert in medicine and some aspects of health doesn't make someone an obesity expert," tweeted Emily Dhurandhar, PhD.
Wen's tweet was too much for Michelle Villegas, an activist for the National Domestic Workers Alliance. "Fat phobia runs rampant in the medical community and it's a real bummer because odds are this tweet isn't going to help anyone, or change Krispy Kreme's policy — it's just going to trigger disordered eating and feelings of shame in people who are already struggling," she tweeted.
Meanwhile, "Some of the responses to the #KrispyKreme doughnut vaccine debate really have me thinking about how paternalistic #publichealth and #medicine can be," tweeted Uché Blackstock, MD, founder and CEO of Advancing Health Equity. "We're in the midst of a pandemic. Are we really upset over incentivizing vaccinations with doughnuts?"
Ashish Jha, MD, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, in Providence, RI, and a frequent media personality, agreed that the fuss seemed to be much ado about a doughnut. "Right now, I'd rather not hear about doughnuts and weight gain. Pandemic, people. Pandemic," he tweeted, adding that he supported the offer.
Peter Hotez, MD, a Baylor College of Medicine pediatrician who has studied anti-vaccine behavior, tweeted, "I'm all in, thank you @krispykreme."
Moderation Is Key
Many just couldn't believe that free doughnuts could cause so much controversy.
"I agree too much sugar is bad, but one doughnut is not going to turn anyone into a sugar/doughnut addict," tweeted Mandana Donoghue, an oral pathologist. She recommended foregoing other sweets on the doughnut day. "Just chill & enjoy. #Moderation is key," she said.
James Fell, a historian and columnist, tweeted, "Good morning everyone except people who have no understanding of the multifactorial parameters involved in obesity and use the free @krispykreme doughnut campaign as an excuse to fat shame people."
Krispy Kreme's spokesperson told Medscape that its doughnuts "are an occasional indulgence best enjoyed in moderation." And the company is "certainly not asking people to get a free Original Glazed doughnut every day, we're just making it available through the end of the year," said the spokesperson.