It’s been a dizzying task for reporters trying to keep up with the development of COVID-19 vaccines. There are the U.S. candidates in various clinical trial stages, candidates within the U.S. that specifically are part of the White House’s Operation Warp Speed program and dozens of candidates outside the U.S.
More than half a dozen types of vaccines are in development, with at least as many online vaccine trackers trying to keep up with them. That’s why I was thrilled to find a site that brings all this work together in a user-friendly way that’s as accessible to the general public and general assignment reporters as to science and health journalists.
The COVID19 Vaccine Tracker site was developed by a team of public health, epidemiology, vaccine, infectious disease and biostatistics experts from McGill University in Canada, the University of Minnesota, and a few other universities and research institutions. I learned about the site from one of these experts, Nicole Basta, Ph.D., an associate professor of epidemiology, biostatistics, and occupational health at McGill.
Here’s why I particularly like this site above and beyond the other tracker sites:
- The interface is clean, simple, easy on the eyes, and easily navigable.
- The homepage map provides a straightforward at-a-glance view of vaccine candidates that’s not overwhelming and manages to convey the total number and number in clinical trials simultaneously. (Its color coding for the highest phase of trial reached is brilliant.)
- One page that displays the 48 vaccines currently in clinical trials is the most user-friendly and graphically pleasing (and non-overwhelming!) way of skimming all the major candidates I’ve ever seen. Each vaccine candidate “card” contains the name of the vaccine candidate, the developer/manufacturer, the current phase of trials, the type of vaccine, and an option to click for more detailed information, such as the trial’s registrations numbers and where the trials are taking place.
- It features a simple How Vaccines Work page with basic, helpful information that can help reporters explain vaccine development in plain language (and it’s something they can link to).
- There’s a contact form for asking questions, which may also be a way for reporters to request an interview with a vaccine expert.
- Best of all, the About/Data Sources page (listed under More) lists all the other major vaccine trackers (and, again, in a graphically pleasing and non-intimidating layout).
This website has everything a reporter could need all in one place, including the information needed (other links, clinical trial registration numbers) to do further research or confirm information at other sources.
The site is easy to navigate and graphically pleasing (except for the very light gray small print) but lacks a lot of what would be useful information, eg, trials results for each vaccine where available, adverse event reporting for each trial, and trial holds. Also, it would be helpful for the listed NCT trial numbers to link to each trial on clinicaltrials.gov. I hope it’s a work in progress and gets fleshed out some more (as the JHU coronavirus tracker has done over time).
The “How Vaccines Work” section is brief and quite basic. The graphic on vaccine platforms really needs to expand on each technology to be useful in for journalists trying to explain how a specific vaccine or kind of vaccine works.