Vaccinations have been saving lives since 1796, when the first Smallpox immunisation was given. For the first time, it gave everyone a chance. Thanks to the vaccines which have followed since billions of people have lived longer lives across two and a quarter centuries.

Vaccines reduce risks of getting a disease by working with your body’s natural defences to build protection. When you get a vaccine, your immune system responds.

Worldwide immunisation currently prevents up to 5 million deaths every year from diseases like diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, influenza and measles.

Vaccines are also critical to the prevention and control of infectious disease outbreaks.

Vaccination coverage has dropped since 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic and associated disruptions over the past two years have strained health systems, with some children missing out on vaccinations. 

It is important that everyone receives their vaccinations when they are due, so they are fully protected. If you, or your child have missed any vaccines, speak to your GP to discuss how you can catch up with these. 

We outline what vaccines are needed for you and your family as part of the UK immunisation programme.

How vaccination works

Millions of lives are saved each year worldwide because people have been vaccinated. Some diseases can be eradicated if enough people get vaccinated because it is harder for the disease to spread.

A vaccine teaches the body’s immune system how to create antibodies to give protection against a disease.

The main ingredient of a vaccine is a small amount of bacteria, virus or toxin that has already been destroyed or weakened. It is therefore not possible to get the disease from the vaccine.

Further information

Last updated 11 April 2024