Over the past two centuries, UK scientists have taken the lead in the fight against infectious diseases. Their work spans every aspect from fundamental research into immune responses and pathogen biology all the way through to developing, testing and providing access to vaccines that have saved countless lives. This runs alongside diligent epidemiological work to track outbreaks and identify those at risk.
Today’s vibrant UK bioscience ecosystem fosters effective collaboration between industrial, academic, charitable and government-funded research, leveraging global connections to bring novel vaccines to the places that need them most.
Building on a tradition of innovation from the earliest days of smallpox inoculation and the first flu vaccines, our researchers are tackling life-threatening old foes like tuberculosis, new pathogens like the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, and laying the foundations to tackle diseases that are as yet unknown to science. New approaches based on fragments of genetic code are coming down the pipeline, offering a faster route to the development and delivery of vaccines against existing and emerging diseases, and enabling the global health community to respond more quickly in outbreak situations.
Vaccination is one the most successful and cost-effective public health measures we have, after clean water and sanitation, preventing an estimated 2-3 million deaths every year. In 1974, only 5% of the world’s children were protected from six killer diseases targeted by the World Health Organization. Today, that figure is 86%, with some low and middle-income countries reaching more than 95% immunisation coverage. In total, there are 26 vaccine-preventable diseases, and 20 more in the current global vaccine development pipeline.
Despite this success, there is no room for complacency. Millions of children and adults all over the world are still at risk from preventable diseases because they don’t have access to existing vaccines. Hesitancy around childhood vaccination is risking the return of deadly diseases in communities that were previously protected. And there are also plenty of diseases against which there are no effective vaccines, with new threats like Ebola and SARS-CoV-2 emerging all the time. The fight must go on.