World-first drug for frontline health workers
FRONTLINE healthcare workers will be given what scientists believe is a preventive coronavirus drug under a trial aimed at shielding crucial nurses and doctors from contracting the disease.
It comes as the Federal Government prepares to send mass text messages to Australians to remind them about social distancing and other potential lockdown measures.
However, in what could be the first turning point in the fight against the disease, Health Minister Greg Hunt looks set to announce as early as today a plan towards a preventive pill alternative as the world waits for a vaccine.
About 2250 healthcare workers of all ages will take part in a four-month trial, to start in about four weeks. Most will likely be in Victoria but other states could participate.
Half will take two 200mg of Plaquenil a day and the rest will take sugar tablets.
However Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research Professor Marc Pellegrini told The Courier-Mail that if there were dramatic positive results halfway through the trial, they could start treating hot spots, such as a nursing home outbreak.
Prof Pellegrini said the drug, which could work by preventing the virus from making more infected cells, had been successful in the lab.
The drugs are safe but would need to be mass-manufactured if shown to be successful, he said.
Unlike other trials being run in countries, this focuses on those who do not have the disease.
It means by the time seasonal flu hits Australia, and the time coronavirus is tipped to peak, a drug could ready to prevent people contracting the illness and could be used when someone has come into contact with a person who has the disease.
Mr Hunt said new health proposals were provided to him yesterday.
"That institute (Walter and Eliza Hall Institute) is looking at the potential for... preventive deployment and we are considering that immediately,'' Mr Hunt said.
"And I am hopeful that within the next 48 hours that they will have provided a strong case but I am very predisposed to accept that."
It is understood the Federal Government and health experts are extremely worried about the impact of coronavirus on frontline healthcare workers because of the potential for them to be continually exposed to the virus.
The drugs would work the same way pre-exposure prophylaxis (PREP) does.
Those without HIV take Prep to reduce their risk of becoming infected. Prep works to stop HIV from establishing infection inside the body.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A VACCINE AND A PREVENTIVE DRUG?
Vaccines: Help develop immunity without getting sick first. Vaccines are made from the same germs (or parts of them) that cause disease; for example, polio vaccine is made from polio virus. But the germs in vaccines are either killed or weakened so they don't make people sick.
Vaccines containing these weakened or killed germs are introduced into the body, usually by injection. The immune system reacts to the vaccine in a similar way that it would if it were being invaded by the disease - by making antibodies. The antibodies destroy the vaccine germs just as they would the disease germs - like a training exercise. Then they stay in the body, providing immunity. When exposed to the real disease, the antibodies are there to protect.
Source: Centres for Disease Control and Prevention
Preventive drug: Taken to stop an infection from taking hold in the body. It is done now with HIV and malaria. It is different to a vaccine because the drugs don't have weakened or killed virus in them.
Originally published as World-first drug for frontline health workers