Dr Obama, vaccination, and the health of a nation

Ali Binazir 2012-12-12

Recently I read about a new movie about a person with polio. “Wow. I’m really lucky not to have gotten polio,” I thought, for the first time ever. A tingly wave of gratitude washed over me for functioning limbs that can run, dance and kick a football.

Come to think of it, nobody in the U.S. has polio these days. And the disease has been nearly eradicated worldwide. Why?

Because of vaccination, that’s why.

In fact, as you are sitting there, reading this, chances are you don’t have measles, mumps, pertussis, diphtheria, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, or TB. It’s no exaggeration to say that vaccines are the single advance most responsible for the elevated standard of living in industrialized nations today.

At the same time, it’s a pretty sure bet that you’re not sitting there thinking, “Omigod! I just noticed that I don’t have a full-body rash, paralysis, nasty cough, respiratory distress, jaundice, bleeding, or fever! How awesome is that?!” Why? It’s because our minds only pay attention to what there is, not what there isn’t.

You don’t notice mail you don’t receive. You don’t worry about the thunderbolt that didn’t hit your house last night. And you don’t worry about diseases you didn’t get.

In his instant classic Thinking, Fast and Slow, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman gives a name to the human tendency to base decisions only on information that is readily available: “what you see is all there is” (or WYSIATI, for short).

When making decisions, usually we just don’t have time to parse the entire realm of possibility for what nastiness could have happened but didn’t. That’s why vaccines, in spite of the immeasurable good they have done for humanity, sometimes go underappreciated. So here’s my little shout-out to vaccines right here: Thanks for keeping me and my community of humans free of nasty diseases.

President Obama has a lot in common with a good doctor who’s kept you healthy by practicing solid preventive medicine and keeping you up to date on your vaccines. The average person may look around and note that things are okay but perhaps not spectacular. I mean, where’s my triple-decker yacht — or to extend the health metaphor, why am I not in the Olympics? But they’re not thinking about the myriad catastrophes that have not befallen us in the past four years, which has a lot to do with an intelligent, competent, even-tempered fellow like Obama being our president.

So here are five horrible, nasty, awful national diseases against which Obama’s presidency successfully vaccinated us:

No paralysis. The great recession is over, and it did not turn into a Great Depression. Millions of unemployed didn’t swarm streets and soup kitchens, the financial system did not collapse, the dollar didn’t become worthless, and GM, Chrysler and Ford are still in business and employing folks. The Dow Jones industrial average was at 7,949 on Obama’s inauguration day. Today, it is above 13,200 — a 66 percent increase.

No bleeding. Osama bin Laden did not execute another attack on U.S. soil. Why? Because he’s dead, that’s why. And because U.S. Navy Seals sent by President Obama seized all his computers and probably prevented a bunch of attacks you’ll never hear about.

Also, we are involved in one less war than we were in 2009, and no pointless new wars where our young men and women would die for no good reason (or false pretenses). The Libyan nutjob tyrant Muammar Gaddafi is gone, with minimal involvement of U.S. troops.

No back-alley fever. The Supreme Court got two new Justices, both of them female and progressive. This means that landmark decisions on reproductive rights did not get overturned, and women are still sovereign over their own bodies and need not resort to dangerous illegal means of abortion. Just one appointment by Romney could tip the conservative-liberal balance to 6-3, at which point really bad stuff like overturning Roe v. Wade could happen.

No chronic, persistent cough. In my recent travels, I realized that for the eight years of 2001-2009, I had been secretly ashamed of admitting that I was an American due to the buffoonery and incompetence of George W. Bush. For the past four years, I’ve recovered my pride. Obama does not embarrass us abroad like the last president did, or insult our allies as Mitt Romney did during his overseas campaign trips. Being American rocks again.

No catastrophic organ failure. When Hurricane Sandy hit, Obama and FEMA swooped down into New York and New Jersey, and arm-in-arm with Republican Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, started taking care of business. Contrast this with the sad way the Bush administration bumbled Hurricane Katrina, and imagine all the awfulness that has been avoided by having Obama and Christie at the helm.

As part of a personal gratitude practice, every morning that I wake up, I count three things I’m grateful for. It could be something as simple as clean drinking water, a warm blanket, or good health. These days, I’m also grateful that for four years, an intelligent, thoughtful, competent and empathetic man has been our president, making consistently solid decisions with the long-term well-being of the country in mind.

Vaccines are complicated enough such that most people without a medical background do not understand exactly how they work. Even so, almost all of them are smart enough to know that even though vaccines don’t do their job with a lot of fanfare, they’re absolutely essential to long-term health. And so they get their children vaccinated, sometimes over the screaming objections of those children. As a result, everyone benefits — the parents, the children, and the entire community.

Like children afraid of the vaccination needle, there are some people in this country who have not yet understood the long-term benefits they have reaped from Barack Obama’s presidency. Let’s hope enough people do realize it in time for this crucial election so for four more years, we can avoid disaster and continue to heal, thrive and prosper as one awe-inspiring nation.

Postscript: On 6 November 2012, enough people realized in time. Hallelujah.