Dr Doug Brown
Chief Executive, British Society for Immunology
The UK is a world leader in vaccine research and development, but fresh investment is vital to ensure progress continues.
When it comes to vaccine innovation, the UK has much to be proud of – from Edward Jenner’s discovery of a smallpox vaccine back in the eighteenth century, right through to current research around coronaviruses. In fact, the UK tops the list of G7 nations in terms of the impact of its immunology research in advancing diagnosis, prevention, treatment, and cures.
However, Dr Doug Brown, Chief Executive of the British Society for Immunology (BSI), is quick to point out that the UK’s achievement is no stroke of luck. “This has come from investment in research,” he says. “We need to make sure we have the right level of funding, the right policies in place to do the research and then to establish the infrastructure to deliver vaccines in the community.”
Vaccines saved 10 million lives in five years
The stakes are certainly high. The World Health Organization estimates that between 2010 and 2015 immunisations helped to save the lives of more than 10 million people. This is a staggering number, but the wave of success has been followed by a period of complacency in some parts of the world.
We need to remind the public, remind government that there are diseases that have almost disappeared, and that’s only because of effective vaccination programmes.
In the UK, the number of infants receiving the MMR vaccination has fallen for the fifth consecutive year. “In many ways, vaccinations have become a victim of their own success,” continues Brown. “For a generation we’ve not seen some of these diseases, so we can be forgiven for forgetting just how serious they are.”
Celebrating what vaccines have done for us
Vaccines have the second biggest impact on global public health after the provision of clean water. To help shine a light on their significance, the BSI have put aside 26 March to celebrate vaccines and the role they play in improving global public health.
“We need to remind the public, remind government that there are diseases that have almost disappeared, and that’s only because of effective vaccination programmes,” says Brown.
We’re already in the final stages of eliminating polio, and, with continued investment, Brown believes measles and rubella could also be consigned to the history books.
“We’re also looking at the big health issues like HIV and malaria,” says Brown. “There are a couple of trials out in the field, with the first malaria vaccine now being introduced. We’re hopeful that, with a global effort, there could be some exciting developments in the years to come.”
While there is understandably a focus on known diseases, the benefits of immunology research stretch much further. As we’ve seen with coronavirus, new pathogens emerge all the time, and investment in research will ensure we’re prepared.