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A major challenge for vaccine design and development, and for trials of new vaccines, is to tackle antigenically variable infectious agents. Here we outline a few general conceptual issues and then discuss new frameworks that are being developed to help understand how vaccination might change the distribution, abundance, and type of strains in a population. Herd Immunity is a key concept in population-based immunisation programmes and has to be considered in vaccine design and use even though it may cause a conflict between the needs of the individual versus those of the community. This issue is of increasing importance since once common infections are becoming rare due to effective vaccination. Concomitantly, adverse effects arising from immunisation are becoming more apparent as infection-induced morbidity declines to very low levels. Efficacy is widely regarded as a key criterion in vaccine design but duration of protection is of equal importance. Whether it is possible to produce effective vaccines to antigenically diverse pathogens remains uncertain but progress towards this goal will be enhanced by a better understanding of the population genetics of the target infectious agent facilitated by molecular epidemiological studies to assess the genetic constitution of pathogen populations and changes therein over time.

Original publication




Journal article


Lancet (London, England)

Publication Date





1466 - 1470


Wellcome Trust Centre for the Epidemiology of Infectious Disease, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford.


Humans, Vaccines, Vaccination, Antigenic Variation, Models, Theoretical, Immunization Programs