This timely and informative docuseries introduces viewers to the men and women on the front line of the war against global pandemics. (six 50-min. episodes)
Glen This docuseries, which was filmed before the COVID-19 outbreak, predicted the pandemic we're currently experiencing. Its timing feels uncanny. Set up like a global thriller, the episodes cut between various scientists and health care workers in locations around the world as they attempt to trace the origins of viruses, invent a universal influenza vaccine, and treat those who contract coronaviruses. If someone told me a month ago that I'd develop a deep interest in epidemiological sciences in the coming days, I would have said, "Epidemiolwhat?" The series brings to life this largely unknown work by people looking for virus sources in a crowded Vietnamese market; or pointing out how woefully understaffed and unprepared rural hospitals are, like one in Oklahoma. Some of these folks are real characters, like Jacob Glanville, who's trying to develop the universal flu vaccine. He sports a leather jacket and rides an electric skateboard around San Francisco. There's also Susan Flis, a retired nurse who's dedicated herself to offering free flu vaccines at the Mexican border in Arizona. It's fascinating stuff, and its characters all seemed to know what our own government didn't—that a new pandemic would come, and we're not ready for it.
Anna It's certainly clear that these people knew the next pandemic wasn't an "if" but a "when," and watching them predict what has now turned our world upside down is fascinating. It takes the shine off of being a doctor, especially when you see the long hours and seemingly thankless work they put into both combatting and researching these scary viruses. World Health Organization Ebola specialist Michel Yao in South Africa only sees his family through video chats—missing birthdays, graduations, and everything else to fight the good fight. Yet misinformation and fear spread just as fast as the disease he's fighting, and when locals start to believe that the outside health workers in fact brought Ebola, they attack one command center and try to set fire to another. It's heartbreaking to see what fear can lead to. This series lets us follow the same people through many different avenues and facets of what it takes to combat something so global. It's fascinating to say the least.
Glen We also meet Oregon mother of five Caylan Wagar, an anti-vaccine activist and fierce opponent of Oregon's vaccination laws, which forbid her from sending her kids to public schools without vaccination records. Despite a measles outbreak, Wagar will not budge on her stance that forced vaccines are wrong and harmful. She reminds me of the pockets of people today who refuse to wear masks in public, demand businesses be open, and protest against government health directives. Yes, I "get" that you think your freedoms are being infringed upon, but don't other children deserve to be "free" of preventable disease? Don't elderly or immune-compromised people deserve to avoid COVID-19 outbreaks? We also see outbreak preparation drills in NYC and learn of the importance of personal protective equipment—if you can't protect yourself, you can't help anyone else. What this docuseries really drives home is how apathetic we've become to disease, and how as we continue to encroach into wild places and disrupt ecosystems, we can expect to see more of this animal-to-human transmission of deadly diseases. Maybe we'll be ready for the next one. Maybe not.
Anna Wagar is such a frustrating piece of this story. There's no doubt she loves her children, but it was definitely one of the most infuriating sections of the series for me. We watch small-town Oklahoma doctor Holly Gorake work through a 72-hour shift as the only doctor at her hospital and the other side of her life—evangelical Christian worship with her husband. It goes a long way in showing both sides of the coin; she's nothing if not devoted to both her work and her faith. From researchers designing and developing drugs and vaccines, to doctors inoculating livestock, to health care providers on the front lines, this is a sweeping look at what it takes to fight these viruses. It's a very sobering series, but one that puts the people doing the actual work at the forefront. Check this one out. Δ
Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Split Screen. Glen compiles streaming listings. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.