Background: Populations such as healthcare workers (HCW) that are unable to practice physical distancing are at high risk of acquiring Coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19). In these cases pharmacological prophylaxis would be a solution to reduce severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS CoV-2) transmission. Hydroxychloroquine has in vitro antiviral properties against SARS CoV-2. We therefore sought to determine the efficacy and safety of hydroxychloroquine as prophylaxis for COVID-19.
Methods and findings: We electronically searched EMBASE, MEDLINE, the Cochrane COVID-19 Register of Controlled Trials, Epistemonikos COVID-19, clinicaltrials.gov, and the World Health Organization International Clinical Trials Registry Platform up to September 28th, 2020 for randomized controlled trials (RCTs). We calculated pooled relative risks (RRs) for dichotomous outcomes with the corresponding 95% confidence intervals (CIs) using a random-effect model. We identified four RCTs (n = 4921) that met our eligibility criteria. The use of hydroxychloroquine, compared to placebo, did not reduce the risks of developing COVID-19 (RR 0.82, 95% CI 0.65 to 1.04, moderate certainty), hospitalization (RR 0.72, 95% CI 0.34 to 1.50, moderate certainty), or mortality (RR 3.26, 95% CI 0.13 to 79.74, low certainty), however, hydroxychloroquine use increased the risk of adverse events (RR 2.76, 95% CI 1.38 to 5.55, moderate certainty).
Conclusion: Although pharmacologic prophylaxis is an attractive preventive strategy against COVID-19, the current body of evidence failed to show clinical benefit for prophylactic hydroxychloroquine and showed a higher risk of adverse events when compared to placebo or no prophylaxis.