2022 Shortlist

Is This How the Pandemic Comes to an End?

Country/area: Germany

Organisation: Zeit Online

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 24/6/2021

Credit: Annick Ehmann, Elena Erdmann, Christopher Pietsch and Julius Tröger

Biography: We are a team of journalists, designers and developers who collaborated on this project:Annick Ehmannis a designer and illustrator, Christopher Pietsch is a developer,Julius Trögerheads the interactive team at Zeit Online and Elena Erdmann is a science and data journalist. Together we have been visualizing and explaining coronavirus statistics since the beginning of the pandemic.

Project description:

Is This How the Pandemic Comes to an End? is an interactive explainer on the topic of herd immunity. The piece consists of a calculator, an illustrated scrollytelling element and a simulator. They aim to explain the concept and limitations of herd immunity and answer the question: Can the pandemic be stopped by vaccinating enough people?

Impact reached:

Back when the project was launched, there was a lot of talk about herd immunity: Would it be possible to stop the spread of the coronavirus just by vaccinating enough people? At the same time however, the new and more contagious delta variant evolved – and rendered the idea of herd immunity virtually impossible. Our calculator and simulator are based on a simple formula that epidemiologists use to estimate how many people would have to be immune in order to stop the spread – and they showed that delta, most likely, had come to stay.

The article improved public understanding of a complex but highly relevant topic. It was read and shared widely. Subsequently, the project was translated into English and adapted as a video.

Techniques/technologies used:

Both the calculator and the simulator are built in JavaScript React. The calculator is based on the formula for the herd immunity threshold: (1 – 1 / R0) / e where R0 is the baseline reproduction number R0 – i.e., the average number of people an infected person infects if no countermeasures are put in place – and e is the vaccination protection against transmission of the virus.

The simulation is based on a SIR model, a model that is used in epidemiology to model the spread of a virus.

The scrollytelling is based on a custom embed in our content management system. For higher resolution, we exported the illustrations using Ai2html.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The simulator was quite an ambitious project to build – both mathematically and technically speaking. Note that our article shows an actual mathematical simulation: Every time the webpage is loaded, new random dots are generated and a randomized infection process is started.

What can others learn from this project?

The entire project was a great team effort. We designed all the elements collaboratively in figma. The simulator and calculator were built in pair programming sessions. We also worked closely with several scientists (special thanks go to Benjamin Maier of the Humboldt-Universität Berlin, who revised our code and calculations up until the night before publication.)

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