A child receiving oral polio drops

Pacific Press/Getty Images

A child receiving oral polio drops

Vaccines: a world equipped to combat infectious disease

Vaccines are among the most successful and cost-effective healthcare interventions in human history. They save countless lives every year.

For the world to be better prepared to combat infectious diseases, we urgently need new and improved vaccines. And we need to make sure that the people who need them can use them. 

What we want to achieve 

Through this key area of work, we want to:

  • support the development of new and improved vaccines
    The world has effective vaccines for less than 30 diseases. There are many life-threatening diseases that we don’t have vaccines for. And some of the vaccines we do have are not as effective as they should be. The coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak has shown how devastating infectious disease can be for our health, the economy and society as a whole. Being able to quickly develop effective vaccines is our best chance of limiting the damage done by novel infectious threats.
  • enable better and broader use of the vaccines that already exist 
    People who are most in need of vaccines can’t always get them. This is particularly true in low-income countries, where resources are scarce – ensuring they are used effectively can be a challenge. Policy makers may lack the evidence to decide which vaccines would be most useful, and there may also be limited expertise in how to deploy them.

Grant funding

This is a key area of Wellcome’s work but it is not a funding call.

We’ll continue to fund people with great ideas for developing vaccines through our existing funding schemes.

What we’re doing 

We’re working across several areas to achieve our goals.

Using vaccines to their full potential to reduce the damage of epidemics

Vaccines are a vital tool for fighting epidemics, but developing a vaccine from scratch typically takes more than 10 years. We’re working to support the development of vaccines against known diseases, and of new technology to accelerate vaccine development when new threats appear.

We are:

Find out how CEPI is working to outsmart epidemics.

Using human infection studies to create tailored vaccines for low-resource areas

Vaccines work best when they are developed specifically for the populations most at risk. An effective way to do this is through human infection studies, which involve testing the vaccines on volunteers from relevant communities.

We are:

  • funding clinical sites to set up human infection studies in low-resource areas
  • helping to build local research capacity and strengthen ethical and regulatory frameworks in those areas.

Our animation explains what human infection studies are and why they're important.

Promoting and using vaccines to tackle drug-resistant infections 

Vaccines can help prevent infections which are resistant to antibiotics, and diseases which can lead to unnecessary prescription of antibiotics. But they’re not used enough as a tool to tackle drug-resistant infections.   

For this, we:

  • are creating evidence and tools to support researchers, funders and industry in allocating resources to prevent drug resistance through vaccines
  • have published a report that provides an independent assessment of the potential of vaccines to help with a range of antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

What do people around the world think about vaccines?

Find out in the Wellcome Global Monitor, the largest survey of public attitudes toward science and health.

Creating a stronger, more effective link between vaccine research and practice

For advances in vaccine science to benefit more people, more quickly, implementation and evidence need to be more closely linked.

One example where this link could be stronger is between cholera control and research. Cholera, often thought of as a disease of history, still causes an estimated 2.9 million cases and 95,000 deaths every year. 

We are:

  • working with the Global Task Force for Cholera Control to coordinate research and funding to make sure that cholera control measures can be better implemented using the best evidence
  • funding more work to connect research with on-the-ground programmes, using our approach to cholera as a proof of principle for other diseases.

Supporting countries to make their own decisions on vaccine uptake and use

Countries, particularly low- and middle-income countries with high burdens of infectious disease, need to be able to develop independent policies on immunisation that are based on research evidence, local disease burden and cost-effectiveness. To do this, they need access to relevant evidence, clear decision-making pathways, and technical skills and expertise.

We’re working to identify, fund, share and apply relevant research so that decisions can be based on better information. This includes:

  • working with other stakeholders like Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance
  • supporting the development of global training resources for national immunisation technical advisory groups. 

Promoting a supportive political and policy environment that enables vaccine development and use

Vaccines already save millions of lives, but they could be saving many millions more. This can only happen with the support of global policy makers.

We are:

  • working to build positive understanding of the current and future potential vaccines offer
  • advocating for the right global policies to support these objectives – policies which are both responsive to country level needs and galvanise progress.

Covid-19 vaccine explainers 

A hand in a medical glove holds the Covid-19 vaccine, it is connected to an image of the globe by an orange line.

Covid-19 vaccines: information hub

A collection of quick and simple resources on how Covid-19 vaccines work, how we know they're safe, and how they can be distributed to everyone around the world.

More explainers

Read more news and opinions on Covid-19 and visit our YouTube channel


Contact us 

To contact someone in the team, email vaccines@wellcome.org.

See who's in our infectious disease team and on our strategic advisory board.