The Shorty Awards honor the best of social media and digital. View this season's finalists!

Special Project

Special Project

The Invisible Shield

Entered in Public Health


Explore how public health has increased life spans and saved countless lives from disease, but underfunding, disinformation, and skepticism of science and government place human health at risk.


The four-part documentary reveals how the field of public health has saved countless lives in the U.S., protecting people from the constant threat of disease and increasing lifespans. The series explores the hidden public health infrastructure that makes modern life possible. It highlights the thousands of unsung heroes — physicians, nurses, scientists, activists, reformers, engineers, and government officials — who work together to improve health outcomes, from the days of cholera and smallpox through the most recent battle with COVID-19. 

Today most Americans live in a place where the water is safe to drink, and the food is safe to eat. Americans survive many childhood diseases that used to be fatal, and their immune systems are well prepared from a lifetime of standard inoculations. Much of this is taken for granted, but it wasn’t always so.

Using vivid character portraits, interviews, and archival elements, THE INVISIBLE SHIELD shows that public health is a progressive and revolutionary movement, whose successes have traditionally come from a diverse, cross-disciplinary coalition of dedicated public servants, all working together to improve the conditions of society.

Offering insights from previous pandemics and public health crises — cholera, smallpox, HIV/AIDS, the opioid overdose crisis, and more — the series looks to history to show how public health practices have emerged over centuries as humanity confronted problems arising from urbanization, industrialization, and globalization. It examines public health’s major achievements — including the more than 30-year increase in life expectancy between 1900 and 2000 and the eradication of smallpox in the 1970s. Public health challenges are also explored, including the COVID-19 pandemic, which highlights how misunderstood, undervalued, and underfunded public health is.

The Invisible Shield was produced by RadicalMedia and Bloomberg Philanthropies and distributed on PBS.


The series has received critical acclaim in the press and the public health community has embraced the series as a validator of the amazing work they do. Public Health Departments in the city and state of New York. California, state of Washington, Ohio, Iowa and others have requested private screenings and have organized their own events centered around the series. Bloomberg Philanthropies produced a viewing guide that provides detailed information on each of the four episodes, a glossary of terms and key discussion points and questions so that educational, governmental and community organizations can host convenings on their own. It has been gratifying to increase the visibility of first responders and public servants who continue to dedicate their lives to extending our life expectancies. 

Author Steven Johnson wrote: “It’s a beautifully crafted show that expands on many of the ideas and narratives that I covered in Extra Life and The Ghost Map. (I show up every now and then as one of the interviewees.) I hope you’ll get a chance to check it out, and if you happen to be an educator, I hope you’ll try to find a way to bring it into the classroom. We need more stories that dramatize the heroism of public health, more narratives like the ones that are so expertly told in The Invisible Shield—and the best way to encourage the creation of those stories is to support the ones that do get produced.”


Video for The Invisible Shield

Entrant Company / Organization Name



Entry Credits