The Week Unwrapped: Plague jabs, Havana syndrome and meat-free Mondays

Will a new vaccine finally banish the Black Death? Why are US diplomats falling ill all over the world? And is flexitarianism a step to permanent change?

A plague doctor
(Image credit: SpaceX)

Olly Mann and The Week delve behind the headlines and debate what really matters from the past seven days.

In this week’s episode, we discuss:

Plague vaccine

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The first patients taking part in a new clinical trial have received vaccines intended to protect them from bubonic plague. This is the disease that caused the Black Death, which killed between a third and a half of Europe’s population in the 14th century - a pandemic which has been described as the worst thing that has ever happened to the human race. Although it can now be treated, it’s still endemic in parts of America, Asia and Africa - and there are fears about the development of an antibiotic-resistant variant.

Havana syndrome

Since late 2016, US embassy staff in Cuba - and eventually in many parts of Europe and Asia - have been struck down by a mysterious condition which has come to be known as Havana syndrome. The cause remains unknown, although theories range from a microwave or radio weapon to a particular local species of cricket. This week a visit by US Vice-President Kamala Harris’s visit to Vietnam was delayed after it emerged that Hanoi was the latest city to be targeted.

Part-time veggies

One in three people who take part in Meat Free Mondays turn fully vegetarian after five years, according to research carried out by the group that promotes the idea. Paul McCartney, one of its supporters, said: “By skipping animal products one day a week, the environmental impact is substantial. For example, if every person in Great Britain skipped meat for one day, it would reduce our carbon footprint by more than if every car was taken off the road for a whole day.” Is that enough of a change - or do we need a more radical change to our lifestyles?

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