Optimism continues to grow with the announcement of several vaccines offering over 90 per cent protection against COVID-19. However, reports suggest that for a majority of people, the vaccine will not be available until the second quarter of 2021.
Until then, trials continue on the potential support of supplements. Queen Mary University of London recently launched a study into vitamin D, assessing the effectiveness of the supplement in reducing the risk or severity of the coronavirus.
The effectiveness of vitamin D is now being recognised by both national and devolved governments in the UK. Some scientific advisers are now suggesting that a national provision of vitamin D could be used to help reduce infections or hospitalisations until the vaccine is ready for widespread administration. However, will vitamin D be used to help ease the burden of viral infections while vaccines are rolled out across the country?
A national deficiency
While the NHS recommends that additional vitamin D supplements should be used between October and early March due to limited sunlight hours, in 2020 the public health body has suggested that the vitamins should be used year-round as a consequence of lockdowns and limited outdoor time.
A deficiency in vitamin D is an attributing cause of rickets, especially among children. A study also found that COVID-19 patients are almost twice as likely to be deficient in vitamin D.
There is not yet enough evidence that vitamin D can prevent coronavirus. But, with little to no side effects involved in taking the supplement, could its use be a tentative win for public health?
The quick development of vaccines for COVID-19 has been hailed by medical professionals, the latest Oxford vaccines demonstrate up to 90 per cent efficacy. However, studies continue to explore how vitamin D can help to alleviate symptoms and reduce recovery time.
Vitamin D has anti-inflammatory properties. This means it may provide assistance to the body’s immune response to respiratory illnesses. Lung damage as a result of the coronavirus can an inflammatory cytokine storm. Essentially, an overwhelming inflammation caused by your body’s immune system releasing proteins. The inflammation can cause serious illness or be fatal.
There are suggestions that vitamin D’s anti-inflammatory effects will alleviate this condition.
Meanwhile, Queen Mary University continues its randomised clinical trial. They are testing whether the implementation of a test-and-treat approach which will correct insufficient levels of vitamin D will result in reduced risk or severity of COVID-19 and other acute respiratory infections.
The trial is supported by pharmaceutical company, Pharma Nord, and NHS trust charity, Barts Charity. Their support highlights the potential effectiveness of vitamin D against respiratory illnesses, particularly among older generations.
News of vitamin D’s potential effectiveness against the coronavirus has reached UK Parliament. Before implementing the second national lockdown in England, on 2nd November, the Prime Minister was questioned on the specific benefits of the supplement. MP David Davis suggested: “[Vitamin D] could reduce infection rates by half and case death rates by half again.
“The Scottish Government are sending four months’ supply of vitamin D to everybody who shielded in Scotland. Given that it is low cost and there is no medical downside, will our Government consider the same approach in England?”
Boris Johnson responded that the results were promising: “We are indeed looking at the possible beneficial effects of vitamin D, and I know that we will be updating the House shortly.”
Following this, it was announced that vitamin D supplements will be delivered to more than two million clinically vulnerable people. This includes all care home residents across England. Beginning in December, the supplies are intended to last throughout the winter.
Speculation continues whether this roll-out could be extended to more individuals or for a longer period as the government supports more trials into the effectiveness of vitamin supplementation. Health Secretary Matthew Hancock reiterated optimism surrounding the idea: “I have asked the scientists to look once again at the impact of vitamin D on resistance and immunity.”
Using vitamin D to support the vaccine administering is being made as a clear and achievable objective for governments across the UK.
Approved vaccines are expected to be used from December 2020, targeting the most vulnerable first. This includes older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions, before targeting NHS and key workers. However, until this can be implemented for the general public, vitamin D may be of use to help the recovering population.