In a parliamentary session last Thursday, Matt Hancock outlined a number of measures the country’s government were taking after a U-turn on policy that dismissed the vitamin’s effect on the virus.
“I have asked the scientists to look once again at the impact of vitamin D on resistance and immunity,” he said in a response to Dr Rupa Huq, Labour’s Member of Parliament (MP) for Ealing Central and Acton.
“There has been some updated evidence that has come to light in the past few weeks, and I want to ensure that is fully taken into account.
“I can also tell the hon. Lady that we will be increasing the public messaging around vitamin D to make sure that people get the message that vitamin D can help with broad health and that there is no downside to taking it, and therefore people should consider that.”
The tone was in contrast to comments made to a House of Commons session earlier this month, in which Hancock stated government-led research found vitamin D did not ‘appear to have any impact,’ on alleviating the virus.
The government’s change of direction was also prompted by a campaign led by Huq and Conservative MP David Davis urging ministers to rethink official recommendations on the vitamin.
Tweeting on the matter Davis, the MP for Haltemprice and Howden said, “It is brilliant news that @MattHancock is encouraging people to consider taking vitamin D supplements and has accepted there are no downsides to taking it.
“It is also encouraging the government is now reviewing the evidence on vitamin D and Covid-19.”
He added groups deficient in vitamin D and susceptible to Covid-19, including the elderly, black and ethnic minorities, the obese and those with co-morbidities such as diabetes, should be given free vitamin D supplements as a matter of urgency.
Also using Twitter, Huq posted a picture of Canada’s vitamin D public campaign (see right), adding, “This is the type of thing that we could be seeing in UK soon - Canadian government advertising extolling benefits of vitamin D – thanks to Matt Hancock telling me that there will be public info campaign on this potential virus-buster with "no downsides"
QMU clinical trial
The move comes as researchers from Queen Mary University of London, launched a new clinical trial this week to investigate whether taking vitamin D could protect people from COVID-19.
CORONAVIT will run for six months and will enrol over 5,000 people to see if a ‘test-and-treat’ approach to correct vitamin D deficiency reduces COVID-19 severity risk amongst other lung conditions.
People will take part in the study from their homes, without any face-to-face visits needed, as all vitamin D tests and supplements will be sent via the post.
The trial involves a postal finger prick vitamin D test, which will be processed in an NHS lab. Participants with low vitamin D levels will be given a six months’ supply of either 800 or 3,200 IU of vitamin D a day.
The team will then track the incidence of doctor-diagnosed or laboratory-confirmed acute respiratory infection in the participants to see if vitamin D supplementation has affected risk and severity of infection.
“There is mounting evidence that vitamin D might reduce the risk of respiratory infections, with some recent studies suggesting that people with lower vitamin D levels may be more susceptible to coronavirus,” said lead researcher professor Adrian Martineau from Queen Mary University of London.
“Many people in the UK have low vitamin D levels, particularly in the winter and spring, when respiratory infections are most common. Vitamin D deficiency is more common in older people, in people who are overweight, and in Black and Asian people – all of the groups who are at increased risk of becoming very ill with COVID-19.
“The UK government already recommends that people take a low-dose vitamin D supplement over the winter to protect their bone health, but we do not know if this will have effect on COVID-19 or if higher doses might be able to provide protection against the virus.
“The CORONAVIT trial will test whether higher doses of vitamin D might offer protection against winter respiratory infections including COVID-19.”
Up vitamin D intake?
The UK advises the general population to consider taking vitamin D supplements at a dose of 400 International Units (IU) or 10 micrograms per day during winter and spring.
However, this advice was recently challenged with campaigners saying that the UK’s vitamin D recommendation of 400 IU daily is 10 times smaller than is deemed necessary during this period.
While 4000 IUs daily was considered more adequate, some in the group are calling for doses of up to 10000 IU in cases of severe deficiency.
Principal study investigator, Dr David Jolliffe from the Blizard Institute and Institute of Population Health Sciences at Queen Mary University of London, added, “CORONAVIT trial has the potential to give a definitive answer to the question of whether vitamin D offers protection against COVID-19.
“Vitamin D supplements are low in cost, low in risk and widely accessible; if proven effective, they could significantly aid in our global fight against the virus.”