Outpacing Pandemics preview image

Outpacing Pandemics

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

At a glance

A smart, startling interactive data visualization to support Bill Gates’ presentation at the World Economic Forum in Davos, 2017, on the subject of vaccines and disease outbreaks.

Photo of Bill Gates at Davos WEF 2017

Simple, in theory

It’s not hard to imagine that the faster a vaccine can be developed, the more quickly it can be put to work saving lives.

The trouble is, vaccine development is extremely slow, while pandemics don’t have a speed limit.

Graphic of Hong Kong flu

How slow is slow?

Very slow in some cases. For example, the vaccine for typhoid fever was first tested in 1896, but only came into safe and effective use from 1994 – that’s 98 years! Longer than most lifetimes.

Graphic of Typhoid fever


Breakthroughs in science and technology mean that, within the decade, it may be possible to develop vaccines much more swiftly – in weeks, rather than months or years.

How fast is fast?

To show the extremely complex process of vaccine development, we worked hard to break it down into simple steps for the audience. These were: Code, Validate, Produce, Distribute, Adapt. We included this as an illustrated ‘chapter’ in the piece, to help give more context about vaccine development in the future.

Illustration of vaccine production

Time on our side

For the timeline, we went back to 1899 for our first outbreak data. We plotted nearly 70 outbreaks, up to 2016.

Using a split-screen device on a timeline, users could easily compare the frightening rate of outbreaks directly against the far slower-moving vaccine development.

Outpacing Pandemics image

Life-saving scenarios

To bring home just how many lives could be saved with the earliest possible introduction of a vaccine, we brought in two outbreak scenarios – Ebola and flu – for users to explore. We worked closely with experts at the Gates Foundation, the University of Florida (on the Ebola data) and the Institute for Disease Modeling (on the Pandemic Flu data), to ensure that we represented realistic hypothetical scenarios.

The results are dramatic.

Outpacing Pandemics graphic with magnifying glass
Outpacing Pandemics graphic showing fast-moving pandemic
Graphic showing an Ebola outbreak

Promoting the piece

We created animated promotions for the Gates Foundation to use on social media, including Bill Gates’ Twitter account, Gates Foundation, mosaicscience.com and more. These were super-short looping versions of the vizzes. But punchy with it, to entice the audience to engage, click and find out more.

Animation of vaccine for flu outbreaks
Animation of vaccine comparison for Ebola outbreak Animation about developing new vaccines

Davos debut

After Bill Gates’ presentation of Outpacing Pandemics at Davos, the piece was on display in the Guggenheim Museum’s Goal 17 Partnership Space. The audience could also explore the piece on tablets in their own time, in a special area set aside for this.

Here’s what Bill had to say about the piece…

Screengrab of Bill Gates' Twitter post about Outpacing Pandemics