BRITS could catch coronavirus twice and may need yearly vaccines against the deadly bug, an immunisation expert warned today.
Mass testing and vaccines have been pinpointed as key measures to getting the country out of lockdown as the death toll yesterday rose to more than 15,000.
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But Professor Sarah Gilbert, Professor of Vaccinology at Oxford University, today warned the vaccine might not protect individuals against coronavirus forever.
And she added that anyone who has been infected by the virus could still get it again despite hopes patients could develop a level of immunity.
Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show, Prof Gilbert said: "It's likely that if someone has been infected, they will be able to be reinfected in the future."
And when quizzed over whether individuals could get the virus again, she said: "We can't say for certain from this particular coronavirus.
"We know that immunity isn't very long lived."
She said her team was working "very very fast" as they researched possible vaccines – hoping that clinical trials could begin as early as next week.
Prof Gilbert said she hoped the vaccine would be effective but added: "That's why we have to do trials to find out. The prospects are very good, but it is clearly not completely certain."
Final safety tests and approvals will soon be conducted as volunteers for the trial are recruited.
She said: "By the time we have all the approvals for the vaccine ready, we should have a good pool of volunteers to draw from and we should be able to get going quite quickly."
Focus on a vaccine comes as the UK death toll yesterday passed 15,000 with more than 114,000 cases up and down the country.
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However the old and vulnerable could face indefinite lockdown unless a vaccine is developed soon.
It comes after David Nabarro, professor of global health at Imperial College London and an envoy for the World Health Organisation on Covid-19, said we are going to have live with the "constant threat" of the virus.
Mr Nabarro told The Observer: "You don’t necessarily develop a vaccine that is safe and effective against every virus.
"Some viruses are very, very difficult when it comes to vaccine development – so for the foreseeable future, we are going to have to find ways to go about our lives with this virus as a constant threat.
"That means isolating those who show signs of the disease and also their contacts. Older people will have to be protected.
"In addition hospital capacity for dealing with cases will have to be ensured. That is going to be the new normal for us all."
Michael Gove today said it was not possible to be certain on the timescale for a vaccine.
He said: "And, it is the case of course, that there are some conditions, some diseases for which no vaccine has yet been developed."
He added: "We are investing in making sure that we can get one as quickly as possible. But, I don't think it's the case that anybody should automatically assume that a vaccine is a dead cert to come soon."
A possible lockdown exit strategy was today revealed – with hopes the first steps towards normal life could begin within the next four weeks if infection rates begin to fall.
Ministers have refused to discuss publicly when and how they aim to end the £2.5billion-a-day lockdown, entering its fourth week on Monday.
They fear doing so would send out the message that the crisis is over and wreck all the hard-won gains. But they are privately considering slowly easing off the brake.
But ministers have been accused of "treating the public like children" for not discussing an exit stragedy.
The UK government must review the lockdown every three weeks by law to assess whether the rules are working.
It is already having a savage impact on jobs, with around a million out-of-work Brits trying to claim Universal Credit since the shutdown started last month.
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