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Vaccines and Immunisation Q2 2024

Scientific collaboration on vaccines crucial

iStock / Getty Images Plus / Jacob Wackerhausen

Isabel Oliver

Chief Scientific Officer, UK Health Security Agency

With a rising tide of threats from infectious disease spread due to factors like climate change and globalisation the importance of vaccination becomes ever more salient.

One positive if unintended consequence of the response to COVID-19 saw many diseases suppressed, but in counteraction there was a negative impact on global vaccine uptake. Post pandemic, unsurprisingly, we are seeing diseases bouncing back.

With the potential that an unknown pathogen, ‘Disease X’, could emerge, preparation is essential. UKHSA is fully focused on readying the UK against all eventualities and we published a Science Strategy with vaccines at its core.

Vaccine development and early access

Ensuring the UK has early access to effective vaccines means working with industry, academia and global partners is crucial. Last year we launched our Vaccine Development and Evaluation Centre (VDEC) and are also leading on Government’s 10year Strategic Partnership with Moderna (MSP).

Both strive to push the boundaries of vaccine R&D for pandemic preparedness. COVID-19 demonstrated that closer collaboration between government, industry and academia can lead to greater innovation, faster breakthroughs and better health outcomes, and these two initiatives are excellent examples driving that collaboration forward.

Targeting the most deadly pathogens

VDEC’s sole aim is to target the most deadly pathogens and those with pandemic potential by working collaboratively to help find, develop and evaluate new vaccines and treatments where none exist, or improve those that do. Its work includes rapid assessment of vaccines against new variants to make sure that our vaccination programmes are effective.

VDEC scientists have already discovered the possibility for a world-first vaccine against Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever, with a vaccine now in stage one clinical trials and, if successful, would be a major global breakthrough.

As part of the MSP, Moderna is building a new mRNA research, development and manufacturing facility at Harwell and has committed substantial funding to UK-based R&D activities, with the potential to develop vaccines targeting a range of infectious diseases.

100 Days Mission

The deal will significantly boost our ability to respond to future pandemics and, alongside VDEC, supports the global 100 Days Mission – with the ambitious aim of deploying an effective countermeasure including vaccine within 100 days of identifying a new pandemic threat.

Recently Government announced a major boost for UK life sciences with a £650m investment from AstraZeneca, which will see UKHSA partnering with AZ to further boost our vaccine efforts; with ongoing work to develop new, as well as optimizing current vaccines.


Further innovation includes developing alternatives to in vivo (animal) studies using human 3D tissue systems otherwise known as microphysiological systems or ‘organ-on-a-chip’ technology; likely to lead to new tools for use in the development of drugs, therapeutics and vaccines which reduces and may hopefully one day replace animal experimentation in medical research.

UKHSA has also secured an agreement with CSL Seqirus, who will be on standby to produce over 100m influenza pandemic vaccines (tailored to the specific strain) if needed, with manufacture entirely UK-based ensuring security of access.

Following wide consultation we will soon finalise our Pathogen Prioritisation list for pandemic and endemic diseases, which includes both viruses and bacteria, that will help steer our vaccine and pandemic preparedness work including for diagnostics.

Our Science Strategy is all about building capacity and flexibility into the system for pandemic preparedness, with vaccines at the cornerstone. Collaboration is key and we have recently expanded our relationship with global partners including WHO, CEPI, the Canadian, Korean and US Governments as well as industry.  

We are working hard to ensure the UK is leading the way globally. It is nearly impossible to predict exactly what the next major public health threat will be, but by laying the foundations ahead of time, we can ensure our response will be quick and effective, saving lives and minimizing the impact on society.

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