Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

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.

Original publication




Journal article


Arch Dis Child

Publication Date



immunisation, national immunisation technical advisory group, vaccine