Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer
Thank you, Benjamin Rubin. The American microbiologist, born during World War I, is not one of the household names of medical history.
But without him, we might be getting our Covid jabs from a scary-looking pressure gun called a ‘jet injector’ that’s a bit like the business end of a petrol pump.
I’m due for my second jab this morning, and I wouldn’t be so keen if the treatment involved an aggressive monster pistol like something from a Terminator movie.
David Olusoga (pictured) and Steven Johnson shed light on the vaccination efforts by tracing the story of another bid to inoculate the world in Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer
Fighting smallpox with vaccines, Rubin decided that a needle might be better than the aggressive ‘jet injector’ that had, up to then, been used.
The only problem was smearing the tip of something so small with the right amount of vaccine.
His solution, as science writer Steven Johnson explained in Extra Life: A Short History Of Living Longer (BBC4), was to take a needle from a sewing machine and snip off half the eyelet.
Then, turning it upside-down, he now had a two-pronged needle — and one that could be loaded with a perfect dose of vaccine.
So simple, and so clever — and a move that changed the way we vaccinate for ever.
Johnson and his co-host, historian David Olusoga, shed fresh light on current global vaccination efforts by tracing the story of another bid to inoculate the world, one that began 300 years ago.
Steven Johnson (pictured) explores the history of the first immunity programme which can be traced back to Boston in the early 1700s on Extra Life: a Short History of Living Longer
They explained how the first immunity programme was inspired by a slave in Boston named Onesimus, in the early 1700s.
He told Cotton Mather, the Puritan minister whose captive he was, about an ancient African practice to ward off smallpox: a drop of diseased pus was smeared into a cut on a child’s arm.
The Rev Mather tried to promote the treatment in Boston. The locals didn’t like it and one threw a bomb through his window. Anti-vaxxers were a highly strung lot, even back then.
Although, in painting Mather as a pioneer, the presenters failed to mention his chief claim to notoriety . . . as the driving force behind the Salem witch trials.
Other smallpox crusaders were more laudable figures. Dr Larry Brilliant, of the World Health Organisation, became emotional as he described sitting with the last known smallpox patient on the planet, a girl in Bangladesh.
She survived and, as she began to recover, he knew he was watching a scourge of humanity become extinct.
The cast of The Pact which follows friends in the aftermath of a death caused by a drunk prank
Smallpox existed in Ancient Egypt, and in the 20th century it killed 300 million people — three times the death toll of both World Wars combined.
The thought that it has been eradicated brings hope that Covid can be wiped out, too.
To achieve that we’ll have to work a bit harder than the ladies at the Welsh brewery in The Pact (BBC1).
They seem to do nothing but stand around in the car park or sit in the canteen.
When they are on the shop floor, they simply talk, while throwing anxious glances towards the upstairs office where their boss used to work.
It’s quite understandable that they’re so distracted, though. They did dump him half-naked and comatose in the woods, and leave him to die, after all.
The second episode maintained the tension, and began to expose secrets in the women’s lives.
It also delivered a perfect example of how to use classic pop to heighten the emotional power of a scene.
Anna (Laura Fraser) was almost too overwrought to breath, as she listened to Kate Bush’s 1988 song, This Woman’s Work.
‘Pray God you can cope,’ sang Kate — Anna was transfixed.
We’ve watched The Pursuit Of Love make a howling mess with mismatched soundtracks, so it was a treat to see it done well.