Researchers in Australia have launched a clinical trial to assess hydroxychloroquine for the prevention of Covid-19 in healthcare workers who are at high risk.

Named COVID SHIELD, the trial is enrolling frontline and allied healthcare professionals from hospitals across the country. It is being led by the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in alliance with human data science firm IQVIA.

Lead investigators for the study are the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute’s Infectious Diseases and Immune Defence joint head Marc Pellegrini and Clinical Translation joint head Ian Wicks.

Pellegrini said: “COVID SHIELD is gold standard in its design as a multi-centre, randomised, double-blind study.

“The trial is focused on our frontline and allied healthcare workers who are at an increased risk of infection due to repeated exposure caring for sick patients. Our aim is to help these people stay safe, well, and able to continue in their vital roles.”

The trial will recruit 2,250 participants who will receive hydroxychloroquine or a placebo tablet over four months.

Wicks noted: “Rheumatologists are very comfortable with the drug’s safety profile. Like any medication hydroxychloroquine has certain side effects, but fortunately these are well known and quite uncommon.

“The medical specialists conducting COVID SHIELD are highly experienced in using hydroxychloroquine in the clinic. All participants will be screened based on rigorous selection criteria and closely monitored throughout the trial to ensure safety.”

Hydroxychloroquine is already being evaluated in multiple trials as a potential Covid-19 treatment. However, COVID SHIELD is said to be the first study to assess the drug as a prophylaxis or prevention against the disease.

The researchers intend to further investigate the antiviral activities demonstrated by hydroxychloroquine. The Australian Government is supporting the research.