Bucky Cantor — a reason to get vaccinated

By Anton Katz SC

I have considered in my February 2021 column in the Chronicle, whether a compulsory Covid-19 vaccine protocol would be constitutional. (click here)

I have had both Pfizer shots and I’d like to explore why. In getting vaccinated, was I just one of the millions of sheep-like followers around the world following evil governments and business? Or was it a sensible and wise move. It was not just to protect myself against disease, but also those around me and with whom I come into contact?

There are many reasons to be vaccinated. And vaccinated not just against Covid-19, but against all manner of diseases and viruses.

Many scientists and medical professionals think vaccination is the most effective method of preventing infectious diseases. Widespread immunity due to vaccination is largely responsible for the worldwide eradication of smallpox, and the restriction of diseases such as polio, measles and tetanus from large parts of the world. Vaccination and its effectiveness have been widely studied and verified; for example, vaccines that have proven effective include the influenza and chickenpox vaccines. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that licensed vaccines are currently available for twenty-five different preventable infections.

Yet there are many who genuinely believe that the vaccination drive by governments and big business around the world in respect of Covid-19 is based on a conspiracy of lies, and constitutes ultimate control over individuals. I know a number of clever and apparently level-headed successful professionals who are convinced that in a couple of years those who have been Covid-vaccinated will be dead or sterile. And there are suggestions that anti-vaxxers should be barred from social media, and that those who spread anti-vaxxer messages should be sanctioned and even prosecuted.

I was musing as to why I ignored the warnings by the anti-vaxxers. Was I being mature and sensible and listening to the abundance of science? Having thought about it, I concluded that my vaccination view was both consciously and subconsciously informed by a beautiful book I read at the start of lockdown.

When lockdown kicked off at the end of March 2020, my practice dried up for a couple of months. I tried to exercise, eat more healthily and finally get to do things I had planned but never got round to. So, I tried reading important authors. The first was Phillip Roth. When Roth died aged 85 in 2018, the New York Times described him as towering over other American 20th century novelists. It said, “In the course of a very long career, Mr Roth took on many guises — mainly versions of himself — in the exploration of what it means to be an American, a Jew, a writer, a man.” I picked up and slowly read his last (and 32nd) book Nemesis, written in 2010. It is not a long book. But every page has something special.

The setting is Newark, New Jersey in the stifling summer heat of 1944. Twenty-three year old Bucky Cantor is athletic and is the playground director for Jewish high school kids. As polio ravages Bucky’s playground boys, so many emotions come to the fore: fear, panic, anger, bewilderment, suffering and pain. And Bucky meets the Jewish princess of his dreams, Marcia Steinberg, the daughter of a local doctor. Sweet, loving and endearing on every level is their relationship. How Bucky Cantor was affected by, and dealt with the polio issues, made a deep impression on me. It was philosophical and gut-wrenching. To say more would spoil reading the book. But images arise of President Franklin D Roosevelt, paralysed by polio, and sitting in his wheelchair at the Yalta Conference at the end of World War II.

At school I remember learning about how the polio pandemic caused such havoc in so many lives in the generation before mine. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the polio virus arrived in the US each summer, striking without warning. No-one knew how polio was transmitted or what caused it. For four decades, swimming pools and movie theaters closed during polio season for fear of this invisible enemy. Parents stopped sending their children to playgrounds or birthday parties for fear they would ‘catch polio’. There were theories that the virus spread from imported bananas or stray cats. There was no known cure or vaccine. But ultimately, poliomyelitis was conquered in 1955 by a vaccine developed by Jonas Salk and his team at the University of Pittsburgh.

And as the Covid-19 pandemic has meandered on, and I think of the powerful Bucky Cantor, I reflected that I have never come across anyone who had been struck by polio. Why, I wondered. As I continued to read about polio, it became clear that polio had vanished as a result of vaccination, and herd immunity.

So, when I became eligible for the Covid-19 vaccination, I heard what the scientists and doctors said. I heard the anti-vaxxers. I thought the scientists were probably right. But ultimately that didn’t matter. What mattered was Bucky Cantor.

Anton Katz is a practising Senior Counsel, former United Nations special rapporteur on mercenaries and human rights, former Acting High Court Judge, and an admitted attorney in New York. He was born and raised in Sea Point.

• Published in the PDF edition of the November 2021 issue – Click here to get it.

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