Vitamin D can play a protective role in fighting Covid-19 according to Irish medics from the Covit-D Consortium who presented to the Oireachtas Health Committee today.
The group want a State recommendation for every adult in Ireland to take a dose of between 800 and 1000 IU (international units) daily, and for vulnerable groups to take a higher level under medical supervision.
Studies they quoted have shown up to 70% of adults in Ireland have insufficient levels of the so-called sunshine vitamin in winter and they said people who develop severe Covid-19 have low vitamin D levels.
Dr Daniel McCartney called on the committee to act swiftly to enhance the role of vitamin D in the Covid strategy as it confers an advantage for patients.
Dr McCartney, director of Human Nutrition and Dietetics at the Technological University of Dublin, said: “There is now an extensive body of international research showing the protective role of vitamin D against Covid-19, and supporting the need for population supplementation at higher doses than those currently recommended.”
He referred to international and Irish research. One Spanish study showed lower rates of ICU admission, ventilation, and death in those given vitamin D during their admission.
He said, however, there were just 76 patients in the main research cohort.
Dr McCartney said: “From May 2020, data showing a direct relationship between low vitamin D status and increased risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection, severe disease and death emerged.
"These studies included work by Prof Faulin Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown, which showed much higher ICU admission rates in patients with low vitamin D levels.”
He stressed any policy around supplementing with vitamin D to help tackle Covid-19 cannot be the sole approach.
Studies undertaken with older Irish adults show 60% have insufficient levels of vitamin D, said Rose-Anne Kenny, Professor of Medical Gerontology at Trinity College.
Studies of patients with severe levels of the virus have shown they are more likely to have insufficient or low levels of the vitamin, according to Professor James Bernard Walsh from Trinity College Dublin.
He said a long-term public health campaign is needed:
Roisin Shortall, co-leader with the Social Democrats, questioned the consortium on their interactions with Nphet.
She has asked the health minister if the department or Nphet would recommend increased vitamin D supplementation as part of the Covid-strategy.
“Nphet can be behind the curve a bit, they were in relation to ventilation, they were in relation to face masks,” Ms Shortall said.
Dr McCartney said they have not had any formal interaction with Nphet at this point, although certain members are aware of the research.
There were no members of Nphet at this sitting of the committee, but deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn was questioned about vitamin D at a briefing last week.
He said then he was not satisfied there is sufficient robust advice around the use of vitamin D to treat Covid-19 for it to be recommended. He added that Nphet has studied and discussed this matter.
A number of the consortium members noted that due to the lockdown conditions, Irish people will be even more deficient in vitamin D levels and raised particular concerns around people in nursing homes.