Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer

Extra Life

The story of how the smallpox vaccine was developed, from the groundbreaking practice of variolation and Edward Jenner’s famous experiments, to US president Thomas Jefferson’s clinical trials, the opposition of early 19th-century anti-vaxxers and the eventual global eradication of the disease through the World Health Organisation.

The tale exemplifies our astonishing ability to combat serious illnesses, a historic precedent for how the accumulation and sharing of scientific knowledge has enabled us to move at incredible speed in the search for vaccines to combat Covid-19.

Science and medical innovation have conquered some of the world’s deadliest diseases and doubled life expectancies for many across the globe in less than a century. Set in the context of today’s Covid-19 crisis, this series explores the lessons learned from previous global pandemics, including smallpox, cholera and the Spanish flu, and reveals how scientists, doctors, self-experimenters and activists launched a public health revolution, saving millions of lives.

Best-selling science writer Steven Johnson and historian David Olusoga embark on an investigative journey through 300 years of scientific breakthroughs and go behind the scenes of modern medicine to meet the unsung heroes tackling Covid-19 and other public health threats today. Together, they expose the normally hidden world of public health and reveal how collective efforts across the globe can lead to extraordinary outcomes.

Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer – Tuesday 10.05pm on BBC Four