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Vaccines train the immune system to recognise parts of pathogens (disease-causing agents such as viruses and bacteria) or their secreted components so that it can protect the body at the next encounter. Vaccines are highly effective against infectious diseases and are part of a wider toolkit of measures to reduce their transmission.

Key points:

  • Vaccines are thoroughly tested in pre-clinical and clinical trials to assess their safety and efficacy before authorisation to use and large-scale manufacturing.
  • There are several vaccine technologies currently available, each with its own advantages and limitations.
  • Platform-based vaccines (such as DNA-, RNA- and viral vector-based vaccines) can be quickly adapted and modified as needed. These technologies have the potential to quickly respond to some emerging pathogens (such as new viruses) but have limited use against others (such as new bacteria).
  • Vaccine R&D has a series of challenges and it can be facilitated by advances in fundamental and veterinary research, a robust clinical trial infrastructure, innovation in clinical trials design, new pathways to accelerate the authorisation process and optimisation of manufacturing (including through deployment of more adaptable facilities).
  • The UK Government has invested in vaccine R&D in the UK through a series of initiatives, including the UK Vaccine Network, the Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre and the recently announced Animal Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre.
  • The UK has also supported international initiatives, including the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), COVAX and the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed). Vaccine R&D, pandemic preparedness and the role of vaccines in antimicrobial resistance (AMR) were among the focuses of the 2021 G7 Summit.
  • The 2021 Life Sciences Vision aims to sustain the UK’s position in novel vaccine development and to make the UK globally competitive in life sciences.


POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer-reviewed. POST would like to thank consultees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:

  • Members of the POST Board*
  • Agriculture Research Team; Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office*
  • Annette England MBE, Bioprocessing Consultant, UK BioIndustry Association*
  • Bryan Deane, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI)
  • Chief Scientific Adviser’s (CSA) Science Cell, Research & Evidence Division; Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office *
  • Dr Jo Dean, BactiVac Network
  • Dr Martin Turner, UK BioIndustry Association (BIA)*
  • Dr Ohid Yaqub, University of Sussex
  • Dr Paul Stickings, National Institute for Biological Standards and Control*
  • Dr Rino Rappuoli and Dr Mariagrazia Pizza, GlaxoSmithKline*
  • Dr Rory Care, National institute for Biological Standards and Control*
  • Dr Tim Connelley, the University of Edinburgh
  • Dr Vasee Moorthy, Senior Advisor, Research for Health Department, WHO Geneva*
  • Exotic Disease Policy team, Animal and Plant Health and Welfare; Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs*
  • Immunology and COVID-19 Taskforce, British Society of Immunology*
  • Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency*
  • Professor Adam Cunningham, University of Birmingham *
  • Professor Beate Kampmann, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  • Professor Bryan Charleston, the Pirbright Institute
  • Professor Calman A. MacLennan, University of Oxford; University of Birmingham; Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust*
  • Professor Gary Entrican, University of Edinburgh*
  • Professor Helen McShane, University of Oxford
  • Professor Martina Micheletti, University College London*
  • Professor Paul Dalby, University College London
  • Professor Philip Clarke, Dr Laurence Roope and Dr Koen Pouwels, University of Oxford
  • Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, University of Oxford*
  • The Vaccines Taskforce , Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy/ Department of Health and Social Care*
  • UK Research and Innovation – BBSRC*
  • UK Research and Innovation*
  • Wellcome Trust

* denotes people and organisations who acted as external reviewers of the briefing.

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