Cautionary Tales – How To End A Pandemic

17th July, 2020

The eradication of smallpox is one of humanity’s great achievements – but the battle against the virus was fought by the most unlikely of alliances. How did the breakthrough happen – and can we guarantee that the world is still safe from smallpox?

Written by Tim Harford with Andrew Wright. Producers: Ryan Dilley with Peter Naughton. Sound design/mix/musical composition: Pascal Wyse. Editor: Julia Barton. Publicity: Christine Ragasa.

Thanks to the team at Pushkin Industries, Heather Fain, Maya Koenig, Mia Lobel, Carly Migliori, Jacob Weisberg, and of course, the mighty Malcolm Gladwell.

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Further reading and listening

The smallpox wargame is described in ‘Shining Light on “Dark Winter”.’ Tara O’Toole, Mair Michael, Thomas V. Inglesby. Clinical Infectious Diseases, Volume 34, Issue 7, 1 April 2002, Pages 972–983, and more recent reflections on smallpox are at PittMed, in Wired and on CNN.

The history of variolation in Boston is from The Life and Times of Cotton Mather by Kenneth Silverman, Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi, and in particular The Fever of 1721 by Stephen Coss.

Edward Jenner’s contribution is discussed in the Lancet, and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s in Time magazine.

Ellen Laipson’s comments on Covid-19 and bioterrorism were reported by Euractiv.

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