The UK has been at the cutting edge of science for centuries, and research into immunity and vaccination is no exception. From understanding the immune system to tracking infections, developing new vaccines to life-saving clinical trials, our researchers are making a major contribution to global progress in public health.
Despite its relatively small size, the UK punches well above its weight when it comes to producing world leading research, particularly around the science underpinning immunity.
When comparing UK immunity research performance to other G7 countries, the UK consistently outperforms its peers in terms of the volume and influence of research outputs relevant to vaccines.
The UK contains around 9% of the G7 population, and yet produces 14% of the G7’s scientific publications in immunity. The UK also leads the G7 in terms of the impact of these publications, indicated by the number of times the results are cited in other research papers. UK publications on immunity are cited on average 29.3 times. The UK’s Fields Citation Ratio, a measure of the scientific influence of those publications, is also the highest of all G7 countries.
In 2017 the UK published 8,630 scientific papers in immunity, an increase of almost 68% from the 5,141 published in 2008, making the UK the fastest growing country of the G7 in this area. However, research specifically focusing on vaccines is lagging behind immunity research in the UK in terms of performance and influence. At a time when the world is acutely aware of the threats posed by emerging diseases, it is concerning to see that the number of grants awarded for vaccine research and development in the UK appears to have taken a downturn over recent years. When vaccine research is more important than ever before, we must ensure that efforts are being undertaken to bring vaccine research to parity with the rest of the immunity sector. The effect of the recent downturn in grants being made to vaccine research is yet to become clear.
The importance of UK immunity research to local and international policy is highlighted by the fact that the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UK Government are heavily reliant on homegrown science, with the WHO citing UK research as their number two source of immunity information and the UK Government using it as its number one source.
A report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Global Health, published in February 2020, also highlighted the quality and impact of UK research, placing the UK at the top of the G7 across multiple health research disciplines, including immunology. Immunology research was shown to outperform other health research disciplines in the UK, with a higher citation score than the UK’s public health and healthcare sciences sectors. UK immunology also ranked higher amongst the G7 compared to our research and experimental medicine sector. The same report estimated that the UK’s investment in Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, between 2016 and 2020 enabled 76 million children to be vaccinated and saved 1.4 million lives. According to the WHO, Gavi has averted medical costs of $350 billion and brought $820 billion in economic and social benefits since 2000 across the 73 countries it has operated in. The importance of vaccine research to patient benefit, not just in the UK, but across the whole world is clear. It is evident that maintaining the UK’s status as the engine room of immunity research and levelling up its vaccine research sector is key to increasing the number of diseases which we can protect ourselves against using vaccines.