Project description

As measles was spreading across the country, affecting almost 5 thousands people and killing 4 just in 2017, we filed more than one hundred Foia request to Italy’s health districts in order to gather data on vaccinal coverages on kids less than 24 months old. We got data on vaccinations against polio, tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, hepatitis B, haemophilus B influence, measles, mumps, rubella, meningitis C and pneumococcus for children born in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
By using this data we were able to build the most detailed vaccinal coverage map ever: we provided data on a level lower than provinces, while Italy’s Health Ministry open data are released on regional basis. We were also able to enlight the lowering trend on vaccinal coverages, an issue which led Italy’s governement to approve a new law increasing the number of mandatory vaccinations from 4 to 10.
Although this is not a risk map from an epidemiological point of view, it allows people, parents in particular, to know wether or not herd immunity is reached where they live and act consequently. Since this has been quite an issue on Italy’s public debat, in september we filed new Foia request to gather vaccinal coverages data for kids born in 2014.
I sold this project to Wired.it, which published it on may 18th, 2017 under the title "Vaccini d’Italia". I asked, and the newsroom agreed, not to monetize data. We released them on Google Drive in order for everyone interested to use them. A second issue was released in november 2017. After the general election in 2018, we crossed vaccinal coverage and poll data looking for correlations. We (luckily) found none.

What makes this project innovative?

As for Italy, this project is innovative because it is among the very first journalistic investigations conducted by using Foia legislation, which was approved in 2016 and became effective on december the 23rd the same year. Our work is mentioned, although not explictly as we were still working on it when they released the issue, in "Ignoranza di Stato", a report on the use of italian Foia legislation held by Diritto di Sapere, an organisation which lobbied in order to get the law approved.
Datavisualizations are not that mainstream in Italy, but I wouldn't say using them is a point of innovation. As for the data themselves, I consider the choice to make data open innovative. The first time we used Google Drive to let people download them. In november, when we published new data, we made them available on Data.world. We are currently moving all data to Data.World.

What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?

The original story was shared almost 17 thousands time on Facebook, dataviz was seen more than 265k times (Wired.it has 50k unique visitors per day). The day after we went on line, the government approved a new law, increasing mandatory vaccines from 4 to 10 (to be honest, as for measles and autism, there is no cause-effect relationship here). While covering Italy's anti-vax movement, Time quoted our work. I would say, though, that the biggest impact of the story came from half a dozen university researchers, both from universities and EU's research agency JRC, who reached me asking for data to be used in their works. They also asked me about Foia legislation as a way to get informations they were not able to collect otherwise.

Source and methodology

We filed in more than one hundred Foia requests, one to every Azienda sanitaria locale (Italian NHS local districts). Half of them answered within legal terms (30 days), otherwise we sent a second or even a third data request. Sometimes we were redirected to a regional level (Italian regions have the faculty to rule on health issues). In the end we were not able to collect data from just 6 provinces: Benevento, Avellino, Potenza, Sassari, Nuoro and a part of Naples area.

Technologies Used

I'm not able to code and I was also running as a lone wolf on a small budget, so I had to rely on a free tool. I decided to use Tableau Public, the software I best know and have been using for quite a long. I chose it for its versatility: its use of filters allowed me to gather all data in a single map, showing vaccinal coverage for 10 diseases and allowing people to zoom on a very local level. Of course it's not up to me to say if I reached it, but my goal was to build a dataviz which could be effective in the firts place.

Project members

I must give credit to my editor and my data editor at Wired, Federico Ferrazza and Andrea Gentile, for letting me work on such a big issue.
I have to thank Guido Romeo and Elisa Murgese at Diritto di Sapere for helping me filing Foia requests. I also need to thank Andrea Borruso and everybody at OnData for helping me extracting polls data.

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