MONTREAL -- Two researchers at Sainte-Justine Hospital in Montreal will share $6.3 million in funding to study the usefulness of vitamin D in fighting COVID-19, as well as the risk of reinfection in healthcare workers.

These major grants awarded to doctors Francine M. Ducharme and Caroline Quach-Thanh by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) will allow them to carry out their work in the coming months.

"COVID is a viral infection (...) but people who are very sick, who go to intensive care, it's because they have a disproportionate inflammatory reaction, we call it the cytokine storm," said Ducharme, who received $4.2 million. "The property of high doses of vitamin D to perhaps decrease or prevent this disproportionate increase in the inflammatory response could be very interesting."

In September, she and her colleagues will seek to recruit 2,400 health workers to participate in this study to see if high doses of vitamin D can prevent infection outright, if not to reduce the severity of symptoms.

Preliminary results could be announced as early as January.

"If you want to test this (vitamin D), you have to test it in a rigorous randomized clinical trial,'' said Ducharme. "But the results and preliminary scans we've had with other viruses are promising, so it's worth testing. If it works, it is a drug that does not seem dangerous and that would be readily available."


On her end, Quach-Thanh has received $2.1 million to study, over the next year, the risk of COVID-19 reinfection in health care workers.

"The big question we have right now is: does COVID infection protect us permanently or not?" said Quach-Thanh. "The only way to find out is to follow people."

A total of 735 health care workers in Montreal will be recruited for the study. They will undergo blood tests every three months to measure their antibody levels and cellular immunity.

They will also receive a questionnaire every two weeks to find out if they have had symptoms or not. If so, samples will be taken to see if the virus is present and, if so, if it is different from the original virus.

"This is the only moment, I would say, when I hope we will have a second wave, so that these people are exposed,'' said Quach-Thanh with a laugh. "Because obviously, if there is no second wave and they are never re-exposed, I will not be able to answer my question."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 25, 2020