Get Ready to Tune into Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer

In just over 100 years, an incredible story has unfolded, but most of us have lost sight of it based on the ever-evolving news cycle. The story is centered on the doubling—yes, doubling—of average life expectancy today compared to those born just over 100 years ago. The doubling of life expectancy is the result of medical as well as public health protection advancements. The factors behind this remarkable performance are now coming to life in a new PBS/BBC series, “Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer,” which the CDC Foundation is pleased to support.

While “Extra Life” is set in the context of COVID-19, the series explores previous pandemics like smallpox and Spanish influenza to learn how medicine and public health have evolved to bolster life expectancy.

The four-part series is hosted by best-selling author Steven Johnson (“The Ghost Map” and “How We Got to Now”) and broadcaster David Olusoga (“Civilizations,” “Black & British: a Forgotten History”). The four episodes cover vaccines, medicines, data and behavior. Episodes of “Extra Life” begin airing weekly on PBS, starting Tuesday, May 11, 2021, at 8:00 PM EDT.

In addition to the series episodes, the CDC Foundation is pleased to support additional sessions after each episode—titled “Extra Extra Life”—which will feature interviews with medical and public health officials building on the content of each episode. These extra sessions will air on Medium after each episode starting on May 11 (

The first episode of “Extra Extra Life” will feature Dr. Anne Schuchat, CDC’s principal deputy director, and Dr. Bruce Gellin, president of global immunization at the Sabin Vaccine Institute, discussing the role of vaccines in ending smallpox and the current role of vaccines in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our CEO, Dr. Judy Monroe, said, “The role of medical discovery and public health protection in increasing lifespans and improving health is among the greatest accomplishments of all time. We want to help get this story out because we cannot take either of these accomplishments for granted. As a society, we must continue to value and support those serving in the labs and on the frontlines making our world healthier and safer for us all.”

I hope you’ll take the opportunity to tune in to the series on PBS or BBC as well as learn more from the fascinating discussions after each episode on Medium.

Photo of Pierce Nelson
Pierce Nelson is the vice president for communications for the CDC Foundation.