A group of politicians has said that Irish people should take daily Vitamin D supplements due to growing international evidence that it may help to prevent Covid-19 outbreaks.
The recommendation is contained in a new report, which also says anyone attending Covid-19 test centres should be given Vitamin D and that an "opt out" system for the supplement should be created in nursing homes and among health workers to encourage uptake.
The 28-page report, published this morning, was drawn-up by the cross-party Oireachtas Committee on Health in recent weeks as part of its ongoing review of the Covid-19 situation in Ireland.
It is based on the views of the Covit-D Consortium of doctors from Trinity College, St James's Hospital, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, and Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown, who met the committee on 23 February.
The Department of Health and the National Public Health Emergency Team have previously cautioned that there is insufficient evidence to prove that Vitamin D offers protection against Covid-19.
The report says while Vitamin D is in no way a cure for Covid-19, there is increasing international evidence from Finland, France and Spain that high levels of the vitamin in people can help reduce the impact of Covid-19 infections and other illnesses.
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As such, it says the Irish population, which has an historically low level of Vitamin D, should be encouraged to take supplements to improve health and provide an extra protection from the pandemic.
According to the report:
- Vitamin D supplements should be taken on a daily basis as part of a wider "public health measure" to help prevent Covid-19 outbreaks and other diseases.
- "Specific" extra measures should be drawn up to help vulnerable at-risk groups, including an "opt out" system for people in nursing homes, prisons and health care workers.
- Anyone attending Covid-19 test centres should be offered a Vitamin D supplement along with their test.
- The Government should fund a new Vitamin D awareness campaign similar to the folic acid for pregnant women campaign in the early 1990s as part of Budget 2022.
- Consideration should be given to reducing or removing the existing VAT rate on Vitamin D supplements to encourage more people to take the medication.
The report specifically mentions low Vitamin D levels in Ireland, saying half of 18 to 39-year-olds, one-third of 50 to 59-year-olds and two-thirds of people over the age of 80 are deficient.
It compares the situation to Finland among other countries, saying the Nordic nation has some of the highest Vitamin D levels in Europe and has the lowest Covid-19 mortality rate per head of population in the EU.
Earlier this year, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn said that he recommended taking Vitamin D as a generally positive thing people can do.
However, he said that is different from saying it will prevent people from ending up in hospital with Covid-19.
Dr Glynn said that many people In Ireland do not get enough Vitamin D and every person over 65 in the country should be taking a supplement.
He said there is no robust evidence at the moment that Vitamin D has an effect on preventing people becoming seriously ill with Covid-19.
"We have to be very careful about what we recommend to people to put into their bodies or the reasons that people put something into their bodies," Dr Glynn said.
Co-leader of the Social Democrats Roisin Shortall has said that a recommendation by the Oireachtas Health Committee on daily Vitamin D supplements follows compelling evidence about health benefits from an expert advisory group.
Ms Shorthall, who is a member of the committee, said more evidence is needed about any links between Vitamin D in the prevention or treatment of Covid-19 in Ireland, but that there is evidence that Ireland has high deficiency rates and there are benefits for bone, muscle, and respiratory health from its use.
She told RTÉ's Today with Philip Boucher-Hayes that older teens and people aged in their 20s and 30s have a 47% deficiency rate, which increases with age.
The committee is recommending access to Vitamin D for older people and for people with medical cards and for it to be sold without VAT charges.
Ms Shorthall explained that the decision needs to be supported a public health campaign advising of health benefits and dosage.
Professor of medical gerontology at TCD Rose Anne Kenny said there is "strong circumstantial evidence of a benefit" of taking Vitamin D3 to prevent severe illness from Covid-19.
Speaking on Today with Philip Boucher-Hayes, Prof Kenny said public health officials here agree that taking "up to 4,000 internal units per day" is safe.
"I am reassured that there is no down side", she said.