Australian researchers will today begin testing hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug, as a method to prevent health workers from contracting COVID-19.
The trial, called COVID SHIELD, will be conducted by researchers from Melbourne’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute who will attempt to sign up 2,250 healthcare workers for testing.
The trial will run for four months with half of the participants being given hydroxychloroquine, while the other half will be given a placebo.
Hydroxychloroquine has proven to stop COVID-19 from entering cells in laboratory conditions, but studies in the US, France and China have found the drug to be ineffective at treating coronavirus.
The US’s Food and Drug Association (FDA) warned that the drug could be unsafe and should not be used outside of a clinical trial or hospital setting.
“Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have not been shown to be safe and effective for treating or preventing COVID-19,” said the FDA.
The FDA said the drug can cause abnormal heart rhythms and a dangerously rapid heart rate, but one of the head researchers in the Australian trial, Professor Ian Wicks of the Royal Melbourne Hospital, said the side effects caused by the drug are uncommon.
“Rheumatologists are very comfortable with the drug’s safety profile,” Professor Wicks told the ABC.
Earlier this week US President Donald Trump announced he had been taking hydroxychloroquine since last week to protect himself from coronavirus, while in Australia Clive Palmer claimed his foundation had acquired 32,900,000 doses of the drug in a newspaper advertisement.
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