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Zhdanov, left, and Foege. Photo: Future of Life Institute

The Future of Life Institute on Wednesday gave its annual award to two doctors who were the key figures behind the eradication of smallpox.

Why it matters: Smallpox was one of the deadliest diseases the world has ever known, killing an estimated 500 million people in the 20th century alone. The hard-fought campaign to eliminate it not only saved what Future of Life estimates is 200 million people, but also "showed the world that diseases can be defeated," as Bill Gates put it.

What's happening: Each year the Future of Life Institute, a nonprofit research center in Boston that focuses on existential risk, recognizes unsung individuals who helped avert global catastrophe.

  • This year's winners, announced at an online ceremony, are Viktor Zhdanov and Bill Foege.
  • Zhdanov served as the Soviet Union's deputy minister of health and pushed the WHO in 1958 to take up the campaign to eradicate smallpox.
  • While serving as the chief of the CDC's Smallpox Eradication Program, Foege developed the surveillance and ring vaccination strategy that ultimately enabled the world to finally achieve eradication 41 years ago today.

What they're saying: "The eradication of smallpox is one achievement that we all look to," said Jennifer Doudna, one of the creators of CRISPR and a 2020 Nobel Prize winner, at the ceremony. "It couldn't be more relevant as we find ourselves in the middle of a global pandemic."

Flashback: The first two winners of the Future of Life award are more obscure than Zhdanov and Foege, but arguably even more consequential.

  • 2017 winner Vasili Arkhipov, a Soviet naval officer, likely prevented global atomic war when he convinced his submarine captain not to fire a nuclear weapon during the heat of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • 2018 winner Stanislav Petrov was a Soviet air defense officer who in 1983 ignored an early-warning detection system that mistakenly indicated that the U.S. had launched nuclear missiles at the Soviet Union, preventing Moscow from firing back.

The bottom line: Many of us are only alive today because of the heroic efforts of people like Zhdanov and Foege.

Go deeper

Hope King, author of Closer
Updated 45 mins ago - Economy & Business

Peloton pumps its brakes

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Peloton’s popularity is falling as swiftly as it shot up.

Why it matters: Not all pandemic habits stick around. Peloton's trajectory over the past two years exemplifies how challenging it's been for companies to gauge shifts in consumer demand — particularly in sectors heavily altered by the pandemic.

Mitch McConnell's remarks on Black voters raise ire

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell during a Capitol Hill news conference earlier this year. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been widely criticized for comments he made this week about Black American voters.

Driving the news: When asked by a reporter Wednesday about concerns among voters of color, McConnell said "the concern is misplaced, because if you look at the statistics, Black American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans."

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Trump’s friends worry legal pick for N.Y. case lacks experience

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Close associates and advisers to Donald Trump tell Axios they're concerned by his decision to use a relatively inexperienced New Jersey attorney, Alina Habba, in his high-stakes legal fight against New York Attorney General Letitia James.

Why it matters: A former president typically has access to the country's most prestigious experts, including lawyers. Trump has turned to the former general counsel for a parking garage company, who works from a small law office near his Bedminster, N.J., country club.