Phillip Thompson OAM MP. Picture: Alix Sweeney
Phillip Thompson OAM MP. Picture: Alix Sweeney

ADF attacked over trial on medics, doctors

The ADF's medics, nurses and doctors are among those who have signed up for a controversial COVID-19 drug trial.

In leaked documents to the Townsville Bulletin, Australian Defence Force top brass encouraged members to volunteer for the trial using the antimalarial drug chloroquine.

The trial, which explores whether chloroquine is effective in stopping people contracting COVID-19 has since resumed after being suspended over ethical concerns.

Only 42 members from two health units have volunteered.

Herbert MP Phillip Thompson slammed the documents, saying it would result in "history repeating itself", citing a previous antimalarial drug trial.

About 3000 troops were given mefloquine and tafenoquine before they were deployed to East Timor and Bougainville in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

"The terminology (used in the leaked document) is all ass covering, I haven't seen anything apart from 'oh yeah, there's a padre you can talk to' that would reassure me it is safe," he said.

"We all know that Diggers don't get to volunteer, they get 'voluntold' and that's what I'm reading into this.

Phillip Thompson OAM MP. Picture: Alix Sweeney
Phillip Thompson OAM MP. Picture: Alix Sweeney

"There are just so many red flags. We've been told it would be low doses, yet right here it says loading dose.

"I've spoken to independent pharmacists who've told me they very rarely give this medication out because of the high risk of adverse side effects."

In an email leaked to the Bulletin, Commander Nick Cusack said participants would receive a three-day loading dose, followed by weekly 500mg chloroquine phosphate for a total of 10 weeks' prophylaxis.

Commander Cusack stressed the trial was on a voluntary basis and in order to participate, members were required to sign a consent form stating they had not been coerced into volunteering.

"This will involve primarily volunteer medical ADF members (and some civilians) in the SE QLD region receiving an antimalarial drug to test whether it prevents coronavirus infection," the leaked email read.

"This is a priority ADF effort designed to help preserve our health workforce.

"The trial will commence this weekend on a rolling start basis - that is, not everyone needs to commence the trial on the same start date."

Members of the 5th Aviation Regiment undergoing HUET (Helicopter Underwater Escape Training) at Lavarack Barracks, Townsville. Picture: Alix Sweeney
Members of the 5th Aviation Regiment undergoing HUET (Helicopter Underwater Escape Training) at Lavarack Barracks, Townsville. Picture: Alix Sweeney

Mr Thompson said he'd sought pharmacist advice and was told the medicine was very rarely prescribed because of the "high risk of adverse side effects".

Given this, he said he was "baffled" the Defence Department would even consider a trial of this nature.

"There would be clear key performance indicators within Defence and I can tell you that it's more than the 40 that have put their hands up, otherwise this email wouldn't be sent," he said.

The Defence Department did not respond by deadline.

Originally published as Australian Defence Force attacked over trial on medics, doctors