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. Diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis still cause millions of deaths every year, and others like Ebola and Lassa fever constantly threaten to erupt into deadly epidemics.
  • 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.

What are vaccines and how do they work?

In this Q&A, we explain what vaccines are, how they work and why they are important.

Read the Q&A: Why do we need vaccines?

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:

We have:

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 recently published a report that provides an independent assessment of the potential of vaccines to help with a range of antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

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.

What do people around the world think about vaccines?

Globally, most people recognise that vaccines are safe, effective and important. But in some countries, trust in vaccines is plummeting.

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

Reports and briefings

Impact of vaccination on antibiotic usage

This systematic review provides a comprehensive, up-to-date assessment of the evidence base relating to the effect of vaccines on antibiotic use.

The role of National Immunisation Technical Advisory Groups in evidence-informed decision-making

This report presents the findings of a project initiated by Wellcome and the World Health Organization to determine how national expert groups who give advice on immunisation can be better supported.  

Ethical challenges posed by human infection studies in endemic settings

Despite ethical concerns about research involving vulnerable populations, there are both scientific and ethical reasons to consider conducting more human infection studies in low- and middle-income countries where neglected diseases are often endemic. 

Exploring terminology and naming for controlled human infection models [PDF 415KB]

This report highlights issues with existing terminology and recommendations for new terminology. The recommended term identified is human infection studies. 

Vaccines for antimicrobial resistance

This report, commissioned by Wellcome and produced by Boston Consulting Group, looks at the opportunities and challenges around developing vaccines to combat antimicrobial resistance.

Money and microbes: strengthening research capacity to prevent epidemics

This report sets out how to develop the political support, financing and coordination required to build clinical research capacity in low- and middle-income countries, which is key to stemming the spread of epidemics.


Why are we seeing spikes in measles compared to other infectious diseases?
by Charlie Weller

How research has fundamentally changed the response to Ebola in DRC
by Josie Golding

Vaccines work – for superbugs too
by Ed Whiting

Contact us

If you have any questions or comments, contact the team:

See who’s in who the vaccines team.

Our strategic advisory board provides guidance in this area.

Explore other key issues

Scientist adds a sample to a micro-tube in a research laboratory (Image © Greg Dale/Getty Images)

Drug-resistant infections: transforming the global response

We want to transform the world's approach towards stemming the rise of infections caused by bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

Man and woman harvesting rice in Sapa (Image © Tim Gerard Barker/Getty Images)

Our Planet, Our Health: responding to a changing world

Climate change, urban growth and unsustainable food systems threaten lives. Research evidence and new collaborations could protect and improve human and planetary health.

Request for proposals

Wellcome is looking to increase its understanding of reagents and standards – which are essential for the development of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.

We are seeking a supplier who can evaluate the availability, quality and use of these materials for a predefined list of epidemic diseases. 

Closing date for expressions of interest: 27 November 2019

More details