You who have only known good health gaze in the mirror to bemoan your looks. You decide your hair is too thin or dull. You think your slightly yellowed teeth disgust rather than invite. You fret over freckles and squint at other tiny imperfections until they're bloated and staggering in your mind's eye. You obsess over the nonessential because the essential is a given. Even though it's tap dancing and clanging cymbals, you do not see Good Health. It is routine and therefore invisible.
When you are sick, you notice good health like you notice a cascade flowing in the desert. You see good health when your cough won't go away. You see good health when pain holds your whole body captive. You see good health when you are too weak to feed yourself. You see good health when you cannot walk because your feet or legs or brain won't let you. You see good health when your wrists burn too hot to type. You see good health when you cannot sleep, night after night. You see good health when you admit, perhaps through tears or screams, that you do not control your body, the whole or its parts. You see good health -- aglow and glorious -- on your deathbed in whatever company you may keep during those last moments. It is then that everyone seems ruddy, jovial, and especially alive, even if they are in fact sallow and grieving.
You also see good health when someone you love knows poor health. A heart attack. Cancer. AIDs. Something yet unknown and for which a cure cannot even be imagined. But poor health in a stranger? Such a disease or condition might as well be an urban legend.
The recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa should be a reminder that good health is fleeting. Perhaps a vaccine will become available soon. After all, experimental vaccines for Ebola already exist, one of which has shown to be effective for up to 10 months in tests on monkeys. While there is little threat of an Ebola outbreak in the United States, we should still care for our brothers and sisters in Africa. And with that compassion should come some worry: There are plenty of other horrors that may rob Americans of our good health. That is why there are men and women who dedicate their lives to developing vaccines to protect humanity in the U.S. and beyond. With the right minds, the right efforts, and the right funding come vaccines that can prevent epidemics and, with that, personal suffering and heartache.
Those of us lucky enough to have good health have a duty to treasure it and take actions toward preserving it. One such action is getting vaccinated. Another crucial action is fighting for easy and affordable access to vaccines in communities everywhere. That starts with our own. According to Geoff Adlide, director of advocacy and public policy at the GAVI Alliance, millions of deaths and disabilities around the world could have been prevented with vaccines.
The Internet perpetuates many myths. Some of them are as harmless as the story of Spielberg poaching a dinosaur. Others, like the myth that vaccines cause autism, are deadly. Facebook shares be damned, it's not true. Vaccines save the lives of loved ones and, just as importantly, strangers. They save lives period. Yet it's the country's most educated and affluent who are forgoing vaccines.
The people who should have an above-average understanding of science are denying it. The people who have the disposable income to choose between life and death are choosing death -- not just for themselves but others. If they do become infected with a disease, imagine all of the other people they might expose to the same misfortune. A wealthy person may have the money to treat a life-threatening disease. It is less likely that a middle or working class person would. Now multiple that one less-than-wealthy person by a dozen, maybe dozens, and suddenly the picture of pain has widened. The anti-vaccination movement affects the many, not just the few. It is, to speak plainly, a very selfish movement.
No matter where we stand politically or religiously, we must hold good health dear. That means closing our eyes until it's all over and the doctor gives us a lollipop.