Disease X: The practical challenges of vaccinating against the unknown


Team members:

Rebecca Walshe (editor)

Fiona Bunn

Natalie Cotton

Alice Fletcher-Etherington

Shuhui Ren

Lucy White

"One thing that we can be sure of beyond doubt is that the world will face another Ebola, SARS, or even Spanish Influenza. And we aren’t ready. Vaccines can be the insurance policy we need to combat that epidemic when it comes.” – Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI

The problem of tackling rapidly emerging infectious disease (EID) is becoming increasingly well-recognised in global health policy.  Each year the World Health Organisation (WHO) publishes a list of priority diseases, earmarked for accelerated research and development (R&D) in recognition of their public health risk and current lack of viable medical countermeasures. For the first time in 2018, this list included “Disease X”, representing “the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease”.

In this report, we review the challenges facing the development and distribution of vaccines against novel viral pathogens and present the feasible measures that can be implemented in order to reduce the time from pathogen discovery to vaccine distribution.







Key Recommendation

We recommend that a specific working group under the World Health Organisation Immunisation, Vaccines and Biologicals Programme is established with the objective of working in collaboration with stakeholders to incentivise research, collaboration, data sharing and funding to establish a holistic approach to the novel challenges posed by Disease X.