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'I remember the first wave, ICU was suddenly full of 10 people with very low Vitamin D levels'

An Oireachtas Committee is recommending that a campaign be launched to promote Vitamin D supplements.

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AN OIREACHTAS COMMITTEE has heard that Vitamin D deficiency was “really sticking out” in terms of looking at those who have suffered severe illness from Covid-19 in Ireland.

A report from the Oireachtas Health Committee has made a number of recommendations about Vitamin D, including recommending daily Vitamin D supplements. 

The committee has been looking Vitamin D deficiency in Ireland and whether improved levels of the vitamin would help in the battle against Covid-19. 

The report was based on evidence provided to the committee by experts from Trinity College Dublin, St. James’s Hospital and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

The committee heard that Vitamin D deficiency is “common across all age groups” in Ireland, ranging from 47% of 18-39-year olds to 64% of over 80s. 

The notes that 93% of people from dark-skinned Irish BAME communities may be deficient in Vitamin D. Much of this is due to Ireland’s climate. 

“From sunlight, you get somewhere between 20% and 40% of your Vitamin D in your body,” Dr. John Faul of the Bon Secours Consultants Clinic told the launch of the report this morning.

We’re obviously lacking that all the time. We just don’t have that level of sunlight in this country. A lot of people working indoors don’t have daylight exposure.

In relation to Covid-19, the report notes that Finland has had the lowest daily number of Covid-19 cases and the lowest deaths from Covid-19 in the EU and UK.

It notes that Finland also has lower levels of sunlight and as a result has a long-standing national policy to increase Vitamin D among its population.

Finland’s policies include recommendations on supplements and the fortification of liquid milks and spreadable fats with Vitamin D.

“While there may have been other aspects of Finland’s pandemic response which have been beneficial, it is highly plausible that enhanced population Vitamin D status has been a significant factor in Finland’s low observed incidence and case-fatality rates from Covid-19 over recent months,” the report states. 

Dr. Faul added this morning that Vitamin D defincicy was “really sticking out” in terms of looking at those who have suffered severe illness from Covid-19 in Ireland. 

“I’m in Connolly Hospital and I’ve gone to the ICU and I can tell you it’s very upsetting going to people who are on ventilators and telling the families that they are really in trouble, many of them have died,” he said. 

We did massive profiling of these people in terms of their immune systems and their biological situation, and the only thing that was really sticking out was Vitamin D deficiency.

“I remember in the first wave, St. Patrick’s Day 2020, the ICU was suddenly full of 10 people with very low Vitamin D levels.

And really these people had ever been sick before. They’ve never been to doctors. So that’s why public health messaging is so important. We should be targeting people who have not yet got ill.

Report 

In the opening of the report, Committee Chairperson Séan Crowe TD says that, as the country emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic, we must assess “measures that might have led to fewer mortalities and lower morbidity”. 

He adds that “the role of Vitamin D needs to be addressed as part of an enhanced public health policy”. 

The committee makes four clear recommendations: 

  • That daily Vitamin D supplements should be recommended to the entire adult population to reduce risk of respiratory and other illnesses. 
  • A public health policy be provided for in Budget 2022 to increase knowledge and encourage increased intake of Vitamin D.
  • Reduce or remove VAT on Vitamin D supplements
  • Specific measures for an opt-out system for vulnerable groups, especially nursing home residents, and those in confined spaces such as prisons.
  • That those attending Covid-19 test centres should be offered Vitamin D supplements.

The report does not specifically recommend that there be greater fortification of foods with Vitamin D, but a number of the politicians on the committee said this is something that could be considered in the longer-term. 

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“I think part of the debate is to is to alert people to what the sources of Vitamin D are, besides the sunlight,” Fianna Fáil’s John Lahart TD said. 

There are some foods and they’re very popular in Ireland like well-known oily fishes and that kind of stuff. But certainly for me, fortifying food I wouldn’t rule that out. There are foods that are fortified with with vitamins already, it’s really convenient way for consumers.

Dr. Daniel McCartney, Director of Human Nutrition and Dietetics at TU Dublin, said: 

Fortification is of course, a more longer term issue. We certainly see the value of food fortification at a statutory level. But for the purposes of addressing the Covid pandemic we really need quick, immediate measure to be able to increase Vitamin D levels in the population and supplementation is the way to do that most effectively.

McCartney also called on the Department of Health to “implement in full the recommendations outlined in this committee report alongside the existing public of guidance for Covid-19″. 

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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