Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Vaccinespotting: What Does Half a Billion Look Like?

April 23, 2015

In the competitive content environment created by the internet and intensified by social media, a good story is not enough to grab attention. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, has a lot to convey, from the challenge of using vaccines to eradicate polio, to building a world where children in the poorest countries can grow up protected from preventable diseases just like their more privileged counterparts. So how can visual content help these stories get noticed?

One effective route to more striking communication is to let people tell their own stories, as the Humans of New York phenomenon illustrates. In the case of vaccines, the voices of people who want to protect their children will often be more powerful than anything an organisation could say on its own.

These days, to talk vaccines is also (thankfully) to talk big numbers and huge improvements: 500,000,000 (that’s five hundred million, or half a billion) children immunised over 15 years, 7 million young lives saved and billions of vaccines delivered in the world’s 73 poorest countries.

It’s true that statistics alone don’t always make engrossing stories, but luckily vaccine innovation isn’t about numbers alone. Infographics and other creative forms of visualisation can help us step up, turning disparate digits into a compelling narrative. You can see the results of this for Gavi and partners above.

Animated to show progress over a decade and a half, and counting up to half a billion children, is a story of accelerating progress globally. It’s a story of new vaccines and enormous optimism for the continued spread of this preventative health intervention.

Communicating innovation is not just about explaining the results we have - it’s also about telling the story of the results we want. Our ‘Every Vaccine Counts’ data visualisation scratches the surface of this, allowing insights into the current (in)equity of progress through country comparison. A quick exploration of its patterns reveals that Burundi has introduced four vaccines, while Somalia has introduced just one, much more recently.

So we cannot leave this project here. We have found engaging ways to count up to half a billion and beyond, and to celebrate progress so far. But the real challenge will be counting down from the 1.5 million children who die each year from vaccine preventable diseases. After all, this is what we seek to change.

Partners have already been adding their voices to these efforts, with RESULTS and ACTION charting the vaccine funds that will make a difference between now and 2020, and many others from PATH to the UN Foundation helping to document challenges and opportunities the future holds.

As an alliance of global health actors across the world, we have a responsibility not only to comunicate our joint success in protecting more children from disease than ever before, but also to articulate what lies ahead. The journey towards making vaccines work for all children around the world is far from over. But if we can plan its duration, map out possible bumps in the road, and communicate these creatively and effectively, then we stand our best chance of reaching every child with these life-saving interventions.

This is something in which we can all be involved. Add your voice to Vaccines Work and help us move towards a future free from preventable diseases. 

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