Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has been urged to include recommendations on taking vitamin D supplements in the revised “Living with Covid-19” strategy, due for launch later this month.
Fine Gael TD Emer Higgins called on Mr Donnelly to be "brave enough" to make a decision to recommend people start taking vitamin D instead of waiting for additional evidence "that may come too late" for patients in intensive care with the virus.
In the Dáil last week, she raised evidence cited by the Covit-D Consortium, a group of senior scientists, clinicians and academics specialising in research in this area, which they believe shows vitamin D can help prevent or treat Covid-19 by boosting the immune system.
Last November, the department advised older people to take daily vitamin D supplements of 15 micrograms for their bone and muscle health. A study it commissioned by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland found insufficient evidence to support claims it was beneficial in dealing with Covid-19.
Last week, in a letter to the Minister, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said National Public Health Emergency Team had reviewed the evidence for the role of vitamin D in favourable outcomes for those infected with Covid-19. While it found that there was “circumstantial evidence ... to suggest an association, to date there is insufficient high-quality evidence to support any change to existing recommendations”.
But Ms Higgins, a Dublin Mid-West TD, said the consortium which specialises in vitamin D research, “was not even consulted by Hiqa (Health Inspection and Quality Authority) ahead of its recommendations to Nphet.
“There is negligible risk in this strategy and potentially a massive gain.”
The Fine Gael TD said that in a study in Spain, 50 out of 76 patients admitted to hospital with Covid-19 received activated vitamin D and all were discharged without complications.
“Of the 26 patients in the study who did not receive vitamin D, half of them ended up critically ill in ICU and, sadly, two of them passed away.”
Nphet's evidence review criticised that study saying it had "significant methodological limitations including low numbers (n=76) and serious risk of bias".
Ms Higgins accused the Government of adopting an approach "that is at a do-nothing level of caution. If we continue on this path, it may be too late for the people in intensive care," she said. She pointed to an editorial published this month in medical journal The Lancet, which warned that additional evidence on the correlation of Covid-19 and vitamin D may come too late for those hospitalised. The editorial says "many in the scientific community ... have argued that vitamin D supplementation is generally safe and that any potential low toxicity would likely be strongly outweighed by any potential benefits in relation to protection from Covid-19".
Ms Higgins added:“In Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown, our medics have seen first-hand that patients with low levels of vitamin D are more likely to require admission to ICU and three times more likely to require a ventilator.”
Minister of State Mary Butler, replying for Mr Donnelly, pointed to the Nphet finding of "insufficient high-quality evidence with respect to vitamin D in the prevention and treatment of Covid-19".
But Nphet agreed efforts should be made to increase awareness of existing guidance on vitamin D.
“A number of groups should take a daily vitamin D supplement, including adults spending increased time indoors, those who are housebound, those in long-term residential care and those with dark skin pigmentation.”
Ms Butler added that measures are now being taken to communicate these recommendations for the use of vitamin D.