Data art and the impact of vaccinations on COVID-19 restrictions
I’ve been playing with daily data on mobility, COVID-19 cases, vaccinations, and so on, and thought I’d share this #dataisbeautiful chart just for fun.
It does actually have a message, too, which I explain below, but the main purpose of sharing it is it’s beauty (in my eyes, anyway).
What the chart plots is daily data on vaccinations (the three X-axes) and the stringency of COVID-19 related restrictions (Y-axis). Each dot or bubble is a day (between 15th February 2020 and 30th August 2021) for a particular country, and each country has its own colour. The size of the bubbles indicates total population (so, for example, the large yellowish bubbles are India; and the row of large-ish purple dots just above 55 on the Y-axis are for the US). The regression lines show, for each country separately, the relationship between its vaccination rates and lockdown stringency.
Now, it’s worth noting that the chart includes countries that are fairly early in their vaccination programmes (e.g., Bangladesh or Nepal), and so in parallel with their vaccinations proceeding (the countries moving to the right in the chart), they have also had to impose further social distancing restrictions in order to slow down the spread of the virus (countries moving up in the chart). Moreover, not every country has data for every metric for every day.
To my mind there are two quite interesting findings from the visualisation, one fairly expected and the other more surprising. First, the more obvious finding: as more of the population in each country has gotten vaccinated, countries have — on average — tended to reduce the stringency of the COVID-19 restrictions in place. The visual representation of this in the graph is the fact that the regression lines for most countries are downward sloping: more vaccinations are associated with fewer restrictions.
The somewhat more surprising, or at least to me unexpected, finding is this: countries’ COVID-19 related restrictions have remained relatively unchanged for long periods of time during the 18 months of the pandemic. As a member of the public that follows the news (and for whom the sense of time seems to have become less accurate during the pandemic), it feels like the rules have been changing the whole time. In reality — and it kind of makes sense from a practical perspective — that doesn’t seem to be the case. [Of course, the data is not perfect, either, so I wouldn’t draw overly strong conclusions from this.]
Finally, in as much as the data is reliable, it also illustrates how far from “normal” (which would be indicated by a Y-axis value of zero) esssentially all countries still are. Even as the economy and other activities do seem to be “normalising”, it would be easy to forget how different our everyday lives are now compared to two years ago. It would also be easy to assume that vaccinations will eventually allow full freedom of movement without any risk — which now seems unlikely.