Vaccine Programme


Lessons to create a better future

Nadhim Zahawi

Nadhim Zahawi was appointed Secretary of State for Education on 15 September 2021. He was previously Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Minister for COVID Vaccines Deployment at the Department of Health and Social Care. Before that he was Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Education. He was elected as Conservative MP for Stratford-on-Avon in May 2010.


  • The development and deployment of vaccines has been a UK success story
  • The Vaccine Taskforce brought together the key players to ensure development at pace and at scale
  • The Life Sciences Vision will take the lessons the UK has learned from the pandemic and apply them for the future
  • The NHS will make research and innovation fundamental to everything it does
  • Bringing together all parts of the sector will create an environment for UK life sciences to flourish.

The pandemic has been probably the biggest threat this country has faced in peacetime. It is the most infectious, aerosol-transmitted, respiratory disease that humanity has experienced. The Government worked at pace, formed a plan and brought people in to implement it and to ensure the response was led by science each step of the way.

The development and deployment of vaccines has clearly been a major success story. The chances of finding a successful, effective vaccine were pretty low at the start. Thanks, though, to the brilliance of everyone involved, we have done so. That would not have been possible without the Vaccine Taskforce which integrated the efforts of Government, industry and academia behind a single mission to find safe and effective vaccines as quickly as possible.

We had the clinicians with the genius to develop a vaccine, with NIHR supporting clinical trials. MHRA provided regulatory approval, and then there were the manufacturing facilities that produced the vaccines at scale and pace. The NHS, of course, has been absolutely key to administering the many millions of vaccinations across the UK.

Outstanding collaboration

The Vaccine Taskforce was not the only example of outstanding collaboration between academia and industry, the Government and NHS, collaboration that turned the dial on tackling the pandemic. The recovery trials also used the brilliant work of academics, the NHS, the regulators and of course, the patients, to identify new approaches to treating COVID by establishing large trials at pace. The discoveries from the trials have now been adopted globally.

The Government has now published its Life Sciences Vision. The core ambition and vision is to take the lessons of the pandemic and apply them to other less evident but also devastating diseases and illnesses that impact our lives. It is a bold vision, created with industry and academia, setting out a 10-year strategy. It will build on that collaborative relationship seen during the pandemic. The underlying foundation is, of course, the excellence of the UK science base and the scale and potential of the NHS.

The Vision sets out how the UK will set targets for the entire life sciences ecosystem, building on our deep academic and industrial expertise to develop and trial new medicines and technologies quicker than anywhere else in the world.

The NHS will make research and innovation fundamental to everything it does, driving improvements in care quality, efficiency, and of course, staff happiness and satisfaction. This will ensure that patients in the UK are among the first in the world to benefit from new medicines and technologies.

We also want to establish the best business environment in the world for companies to grow, to innovate and to take advantage of the regulatory freedoms created by leaving the European Union. The Vision identifies key healthcare challenges where we can harness the collaboration and creativity that was fundamental to our COVID response so that we can save and improve more lives. We will emulate the approach of the Vaccines Taskforce to develop genuine breakthrough medicines and technologies that improve outcomes and patients’ lives.

The sector deals bring together industry and Government to address the skills challenge. There is also a real role for Government here in looking across the whole life sciences ecosystem – and beyond – in order to identify the skills needs of the sector and determine how to deliver those skilled individuals the country needs going forwards. The same urgency that was demonstrated in the response to COVID is needed to deliver the skill sets required in the coming years.

Modern vaccine technology has the potential to prevent and treat a range of non-infectious diseases. So continuing to advance UK capability and capacity can have wide health benefits as well as support the G7 ambition to have vaccines developed and deployed within 100 days of a future pandemic. To do this, the UK will continue to improve core immunology, vaccinology, clinical trial design and infrastructure, it will deepen experience and expertise in vaccine formulation and delivery, and strengthen and maintain the Government/industry partnership.

While there is still a great deal to do to lift the world out of the COVID pandemic and transition from pandemic to endemic status, there is an opportunity to reflect on what has been learned and how to do better in the future. It is necessary to seize the moment to capture these lessons through the Life Sciences Vision. It is vital that industry, academia, the charitable sector, regulators, the NHS and Government continue to work together at pace and at scale to improve and save lives.

There is an opportunity to reflect on what has been learned and how to do better in the future.