England to supply vitamin D supplements to COVID-19-vulnerable people
PharmaLinea has applauded the speedy move despite potential for backfiring
30 Nov 2020 --- Over 2.5 million people in England deemed vulnerable to COVID-19 will now be offered free vitamin D supplements for the winter.
The UK’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) says that these groups have spent more time indoors this year, putting them at higher risk for vitamin D deficiency. The move has already been welcomed by PharmaLinea, a private label supplement provider.
“The decision by the UK government is very beneficial for promoting the vitamin D industry and supplement industry in general – not only in the UK but abroad as well,” Maja Orešnik, PharmaLinea’s science and research director, tells NutritionInsight.
She argues that a national health institution and a government backing such action greatly boosts vitamin D’s credibility and reputation.
“It’s quite astounding how fast such large bureaucratic wheels are being turned right now because of the pandemic. It is very encouraging to see that very recent scientific data is being considered and converted into action on such a small timescale, compared to what we are used to.”
Urging for immediate action
The deliveries will be made automatically to care homes, while individuals on the clinically extremely vulnerable list will receive a letter inviting them to opt in for a supply to be delivered directly to their homes.
Deliveries will be free of charge, starting in January, and will provide four months’ worth of supplements to last the 2.7 million people through the winter months.
“This will support [vulnerable individuals’] general health, keep their bones and muscles healthy and crucially reduce the pressure on our NHS,” says Matt Hancock, secretary of state for health and social care.
The DHSC urges anyone who is able to purchase a vitamin D supplement and start taking them now to do so, even if they are eligible for delivery later in the year.
This move is in line with advice from soon-to-be-scrapped Public Health England (PHE). It recommends that everybody takes 400 IU of vitamin D a day between October and early March. This is especially important for people with dark skin or who are elderly or house-bound.
Investigating the COVID-19 connection
While this move is positioned as a reaction to decreased time in the sun, there is mounting evidence of a deeper connection between vitamin D and COVID-19.
“A number of studies indicate vitamin D might have a positive impact on protecting against COVID-19. I have asked the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and PHE to re-review the existing evidence on the link between COVID-19 and vitamin D to ensure we explore every potential opportunity to beat this virus,” says Hancock.
The government will publish its findings toward the end of the year. However, NICE and PHE both concluded in June that there was little evidence to recommend vitamin D supplementation for COVID-19.
Since then, numerous studies have been published finding some form of relationship. As a result, vitamin D supplementation has been consistently proposed by many researchers.
Dangers of backfiring?
While Orešnik takes a generally positive view of the announcement, she notes that the recommended dose of 400 IU a day is still relatively low.
“Many sources are suggesting much higher dosages to be required for immune system benefits, especially for the most vulnerable groups. It could happen that not much effect will come out of such supplementation and the effect on supplements’ reputation turns in the other direction.”
She points out that other national authorities (such as the Swiss) have raised the recommended dosage significantly, and the UK could have gone in a similar direction.
Notably, orders for PharmaLinea’s vitamin D3 products with its existing partner companies nearly tripled in 2020 – with most of these orders coming in Q3.
“There are several ongoing first projects with new clients that we are developing at the moment, including in markets we were not present in before. Much of this was sparked by our review of the available scientific publications investigating the link between COVID-19 and vitamin D,” says Jernej Klopčič, PharmaLinea’s business development director.
Looking forward, he expects that demand will continue well into 2021 as interest in vitamin D will likely be increased even after global vaccination.
By Katherine Durrell
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