The impact of immunisation is best understood through a historical lens, since so many of the diseases which placed a burden on our population have been eliminated or controlled through immunisation. The United Kingdom (UK) National Health Service (NHS), which celebrated its 70th birthday in 2018, is responsible for delivering the highly successful universal national immunisation programme. However, the first vaccines used in the UK were not part of a centrally coordinated programme until the 1960s. Resources that summarise the first 200 years of immunisation in the UK are not readily accessible. Here we provide a two part chronological insight into the history of the UK immunisation programme from primary sources. In Part I, we highlight the importance of wartime conditions, unprecedented vaccine development, and the polio outbreaks in the in driving developments in immunisation and discuss subsequent changes in the use of the original vaccines of the immunisation programme, namely, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, and polio. In Part 2, we discuss the formation of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation and its role, working with public health agencies and advising the UK Governments on vaccine policy, to bring a comprehensive programme to defend the health of the population against serious infectious diseases, highlighting the importance of programme organisation and leadership.
- national immunisation technical advisory group
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Contributors SLa researched the archives. All authors contributed equally to writing of the manuscript.
Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Competing interests SLa, SLo, NDM and MER declare that they have no conflicts of interest. DS reports personal fees from vaccine manufacturers, outside the submitted work. AJP reports grants from Okairos which ended in the past 36 months, and is Chair of the UK Department of Health’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation and the EMA scientific advisory group on vaccines, and is a member of the WHO’s SAGE.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.
Patient consent for publication Not required.