How vaccines have changed the world

30th April 2020

Vaccination is one of the greatest medical advances in the prevention of disease, saving between two and three million lives each year worldwide

How vaccines have changed the world

Although there is still work to do, vaccines have also played a vital role in reducing cases of meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia. 

The world now waits for the first effective vaccine against the Coronavirus. But how did it all start?

Short history of vaccines

Just a short distance from our Stroud office, the world’s first successful vaccine was developed. In 1798, Dr Edward Jenner observed that dairymaids, who contracted a mild disease called cowpox, did not contract smallpox, a much more deadly infection.  Jenner used this knowledge to develop a smallpox vaccine which stimulated the immune system to produce antibodies without the person contracting the disease itself. Dr Jenner called this new practice vaccination – derived from the Latin word vacca meaning cow.

Dr Jenner went on to hold the world’s first vaccination clinic in his garden summerhouse. His work has led to the eradication of smallpox and inspired the development of many other life-saving vaccines worldwide.

Meningitis vaccines and Coronavirus

Some 220 years after Jenner made his vital observations and building his pioneering work, the Jenner Institute in Oxford, has commenced the first European human trial of a coronavirus vaccine. 

We were interested to learn that a meningitis vaccine is being used as a control in this study. Half of the volunteers will be given the coronavirus vaccine, and half will be given the MenACWY vaccine. As the MenACWY vaccine is not expected to provide any protection against Coronavirus, it is being used as a comparison. Although participants will not know which vaccine they will have been given until the end of the trial, those receiving the MenACWY will have the benefit of being protected against four strains of meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia.

The MenACWY vaccine is part of the routine immunisation programme and has been offered to all teenagers in the UK since 2015. 

Importance of vaccines now

Although vaccines do not yet exist to protect against all causes of meningitis, we now have five vaccines in the routine immunisation schedule which are saving lives and preventing disability. 

For vaccines to offer the best protection, they need to be given at the right time. During the current pandemic, there is growing concern that some vaccine appointments are being missed or cancelled. The risk is that this could lead to a rise in cases of vaccine-preventable diseases, including meningitis. The NHS has prioritised the routine immunisation programme as a key service during this pandemic. As vaccines are the only way to prevent meningitis, if you or your child is due a vaccine, please do not delay. Let’s ensure that Edward Jenner’s legacy lives on.

Vaccines save lives.

Claire Donovan, Helpline and Information Manager 

Steve Dayman echoes NHS plea to vaccinate


Meningitis Now welcomes the Public Health Minister, Jo Churchill’s plea to parents to make sure that children receive essential and lifesaving vaccines.

We have been concerned about a possible drop off in vaccine uptake since coronavirus hit the UK two months ago, and have been encouraging parents not to let concerns over coronavirus or a desire not to trouble the NHS, stop them from protecting their loved ones from meningitis and other vaccine preventable diseases.

Read the full NHS statement.

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