Outpacing Pandemics

A smart, startling interactive data visualization to support Bill Gates’ presentation at the World Economic Forum.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Bill Gates and other speakers on stage at the Outpacing Pandemics presentation. The photo is credited to ULTIMAIT.CH/PHILIPP GRIESEMER

Generally, vaccine development is extremely slow. We measure it in years if not decades. But pandemics don’t have a speed limit, so the faster we produce vaccines, the more lives we save.

This was the message Bill Gates was presenting to the World Economic Forum in 2017. So we produced a startling interactive data visualization to support his speech.

Vaccine development is complex, so we broke it into simple steps: Code, Validate, Produce, Distribute, Adapt.

Using a split-screen device on a timeline spanning from 1899 to 2016, readers could compare the frightening rate of nearly 70 outbreaks against the slower-moving development of their vaccines.

We also provided two outbreak scenarios – Ebola and Flu – comparing how many lives would be saved if vaccines were developed sooner.

Working closely with experts at the Gates Foundation, the University of Florida and the Institute for Disease Modeling ensured our hypothetical scenarios were realistic.

The Gates Foundation wanted vaccines to go viral, so we provided some punchy, looping animations to promote the upcoming speech on social media.

After Bill Gates' presentation of Outpacing Pandemics at Davos, the piece was displayed in the Guggenheim Museum. People were free to explore the stories and visualizations on tablets, making the story all the more contagious.

A timeline between 1890 and 2016 split horizontally in two. On the top half are red dots showing different pandemics. On the bottom half are bars reflecting different vaccines where their length represents how long they took to develop.
An example of a pop-up that appears when you select a vaccine in the main Outpacing Pandemics visualization. It shows the vaccine for Typhoid fever, which was initially tested in 1896 and had a safe and effective vaccine by 1994.
A visualization of deaths from an ebola outbreak scenario in Guinea in 2014-15. Interactive buttons let users compare the actual number of deaths to scenarios where the vaccine was introduced sooner and counter shows the number of deaths this would avert.
A line chart visualizing deaths for a hypothetical flu-like pandemic over 12 months. By default it shows deaths with no vaccine, but interactive buttons show how deaths would be reduced with travel restrictions or different wait times on working vaccines.
An animated GIF of an area chart showing the difference in total deaths and deaths averted between a vaccine being available after 6 weeks or 30 weeks of a flue outbreak. Deaths are nearly 10 times lower when a vaccine is available in 6 weeks rather than 30 weeks.
An animated line chart comparing the number of deaths over time from an Ebola outbreak when a vaccine is introduced after 6 weeks versus 30 weeks. Deaths are over three times higher when a vaccine takes 30 weeks rather than 6 weeks.
An illustrated proess for developing a vaccine. It goes as follows: Code, validate, produce, distribute and finally adapt.

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