Ireland academics urge its government to deploy vitamin D in COVID fight as calls gather pace

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Ireland urged to deploy vit D in COVID fight as calls heighten

Related tags: COVID-19, Ireland, Vitamin d

Calls to include vitamin D as part of a national strategy to tackle COVID continues to gain momentum as health experts have pushed Ireland’s government to consider and act upon the latest evidence.

In an online meeting of the Joint Health Committee this week, Dr Daniel McCartney highlighted a lack of official action in the face of research suggesting a protective role of vitamin D against COVID-19.

“Despite the now dozens of positive studies including tens of thousands of participants, there has been no policy change in Ireland to advance what we believe to be an extremely low risk, readily implemented, cheap and potentially highly effective intervention to mitigate this public health crisis,”​ he said.

“We are all standing in a moment; as domain experts we can provide you with information and context; but the political decisions and recommendations which flow from today’s meeting must be the right ones, and the policy actions into which they translate must be delivered swiftly and decisively to alter the trajectory of this pandemic and to save lives.”

Dr McCartney, a Director of Human Nutrition and Dietetics at Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin) and Member of the Covit-D Consortium, also spoke of the need for population supplementation at higher doses than official guidelines.

Current recommendations advise all adults to take 400 International Unites (IU) of vitamin D daily as a minimum.

“My colleagues advocate for policy change in this area which will protect the Irish public,”​ he stated.

“They have weighed the pros and cons of changing current policy on vitamin D supplementation and they are in unanimous agreement that the benefits of a new policy will far outweigh the very minor costs.”

Dr McCartney’s comments add yet more pressure to the government, which has faced similar calls in recent months and as far back as May 2020 to consider vitamin D as a potential approach to ward off the virus’ more serious effects.

‘Deficiency is frequent in Ireland’

In an article, published in the Irish Medical Journal​, fellow Covit-D Consortium members Dr Eamon Laird and Professor Rose Anne Kenny, School of Medicine, also called on the country’s policymakers to update guidelines as a matter of urgency.

“We also encourage all adults to take supplements during the COVID-19 crisis,”​ said Professor Kenny.

“Deficiency is frequent in Ireland. Deficiency is most prevalent with age, obesity, in men, in ethnic minorities, in people with diabetes, hypertension and in nursing homes."

Dr Laird added, "Here we see observational evidence of a link of vitamin D with mortality. Optimising vitamin D intake to public health guidelines will certainly have benefits for overall health and support immune function.

In referencing the studies used in the article​, ​Dr Laird said, “Studies like this also remind us how low our vitamin D status is in the population (even in sunny countries) and adds further weight to some sort of mandatory vitamin D fortification policy.

“If the Nordic countries are allowed to do this, there is no reason Ireland, the UK or rest of Europe can't either."

‘Living With Covid’ plan

Just last week, the issue was raised as a matter of urgency to Ireland’s Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.

In a Parliamentary session, Irish MP Emer Higgins asked the Minister to rethink The Health Service Executive’s (HSE) approach to Vitamin D, as part of the government’s ‘Living With Covid’ plan.

In November 2020, the country’s department of health recommended the elderly to take vitamin D supplements of 15 micrograms for their bone and muscle health on a daily basis.

However, a government-commissioned study carried out by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland concluded that there was insufficient evidence to warrant claims the vitamin could specifically prevent or treat the virus.

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