Individual-based models (IBMs) offer endless possibilities to explore various research questions but come with high model complexity and computational burden. Large-scale IBMs have become feasible but the novel hardware architectures require adapted software. The increased model complexity also requires systematic exploration to gain thorough system understanding. We elaborate on the development of IBMs for vaccine-preventable infectious diseases and model exploration with active learning. Investment in IBM simulator code can lead to significant runtime reductions. We found large performance differences due to data locality. Sorting the population once, reduced simulation time by a factor two. Storing person attributes separately instead of using person objects also seemed more efficient. Next, we improved model performance up to 70% by structuring potential contacts based on health status before processing disease transmission. The active learning approach we present is based on iterative surrogate modelling and model-guided experimentation. Symbolic regression is used for nonlinear response surface modelling with automatic feature selection. We illustrate our approach using an IBM for influenza vaccination. After optimizing the parameter spade, we observed an inverse relationship between vaccination coverage and the clinical attack rate reinforced by herd immunity. These insights can be used to focus and optimise research activities, and to reduce both dimensionality and decision uncertainty.