In early 2021, Media Hack Collective, an Africa Data Hub partner, began compiling a dataset of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines bought by countries or delivered to countries via Covax as well as the number of vaccines those countries administered. At the time there was no publicly available dataset containing all this information that was updated daily. We used this dataset to create a COVID-19 vaccine tracker for Africa. Collecting this data was a labour-intensive, mostly a manual process, that involved gathering data from many different sources.
How did we collect the data?
We started by compiling a list of 54 African countries with links to their health departments’ websites and social media accounts, particularly Facebook and Twitter. We also found links to World Health Organisation (WHO) offices in African countries that posted vaccination data. Some countries’ health departments had dashboards that they updated daily, such as Equatorial Guinea and Ghana, but they were few and far between. Many put out their vaccination statistics as infographics on their social media accounts — like Kenya and Rwanda — or in press releases, such as Namibia, South Africa and Côte d’Ivoire.
Sometimes we had to watch videos of media conferences that were posted by news organisations, particularly to get information about vaccine deliveries.
Using the “List” function on Twitter we scraped and filtered the data. Initially, we scraped the data by running our Twitter list through an online tool called Workbench Pro but towards the end of 2021 Workbench shut down. We had to find alternate ways to collect data from Twitter and Facebook, including doing a lot of it manually. Each morning and evening for a year-and-a-half, we checked our list of sources for updates.
To help with the data collection, we also created Google email alerts for news articles written about vaccine deliveries.
Relying on trusty spreadsheets
We created two spreadsheets, one for vaccines received, the other for vaccinations administered.
In the first sheet we had the following variables: country, type of vaccine, date the vaccine was received, number of doses received, was the vaccine bought, donated or received through Covax.
In the second sheet we recorded when vaccinations started, how many vaccines had been administered and how many people were fully vaccinated - if they had received both doses of a two-dose vaccine.
Not all countries reported all this information daily, so we had no idea how complete our data was. We therefore also recorded when a country’s data was last updated.
It was much easier to track Covax vaccine deliveries than it was vaccines bought by countries directly from pharmaceutical companies. Unicef created a dashboard with Covax delivery information.
But we were able to put together a good enough dataset that allowed us to know which vaccines were being used in which countries, and we had a fairly good idea of how many vaccinations were being administered.
But we always tried to double check this data against official country-level sources, such as the ministries of health or the country’s leadership, which was typically released through their official social media accounts. We kept meticulous notes on where we sourced our data and included the links in the spreadsheets, so we could be sure that the data was the most reliable we could find. We had a hierarchy of sources we used when we came across different numbers for the amounts of vaccines administered or delivered. First, we used a country’s official health department numbers. If those weren’t available, we used data from either the Africa CDC, the WHO or Unicef — whichever one posted about the vaccines administered or doses delivered.
Where we are now?
On 30 June 2022, we stopped collecting this data (see here for the explanation behind our decision). The data collected until 30 June 2022 is still available on the Vaccine Tracker and can be used for historical analysis and insights.