The term 'social vaccine' is designed to encourage the biomedically orientated health sector to recognize the legitimacy of action on the distal social and economic determinants of health. It is proposed as a term to assist the health promotion movement in arguing for a social view of health which is so often counter to medical and popular conceptions of health. The idea of a social vaccine builds on a long tradition in social medicine as well as on a biomedical tradition of preventing illness through vaccines that protect against disease. Social vaccines would be promoted as a means to encourage popular mobilization and advocacy to change the social and economic structural conditions that render people and communities vulnerable to disease. They would facilitate social and political processes that develop popular and political will to protect and promote health through action (especially governments prepared to intervene and regulate to protect community health) on the social and economic determinants. Examples provided for the effects of social vaccines are: restoring land ownership to Indigenous peoples, regulating the advertising of harmful products and progressive taxation for universal social protection. Social vaccines require more research to improve understanding of social and political processes that are likely to improve health equity worldwide. The vaccine metaphor should be helpful in arguing for increased action on the social determinants of health.