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Blinded to the light

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There’s a strong link between vitamin D deficiency and COVID-19.

Health agencies and governments are clinging to the hope of a COVID-19 vaccine as a Catholic would to his rosary. Only when a vaccine is found can we safely run through the sunlit uplands we once used to enjoy.

At the time of writing, more than 100 candidates have entered the race, headed by those funded by billionaire Bill Gates and his beneficent foundation. The reward for them is far more than the warm glow of freeing the people from their lockdowns, and billions upon billions will be heaped into their offshore accounts.

It’s puzzling why so much hope has been pinned on a vaccine. For one, epidemiologists don’t think infection provides long-term immunity, and it could last for mere months; for another, the virus is mutating, as all viruses do, which is why the jab for seasonal flu, another virus, is effective in only a third of cases each year.

These two factors suggest that any vaccine will be largely ineffective, but as modern medicine is essentially a drug-delivery system, only a pharmaceutical can be a solution, or “the final solution” as Bill Gates, with a tin ear to the historical significance of the remark, described it.

But if the final COVID-19 solution must be a vaccine, all other possibilities are removed from the table. The pharmaceutical delivery system also must adopt the mindset that all infection is random, as is the course of a disease.

It was clear from the early experiment of herd immunity—let the virus pass naturally among us until 60 percent have been infected—that it wasn’t quite so random. Although it was always part of the policy to protect the elderly and vulnerable, many who were seemingly healthy and without an underlying condition were also suffering severe symptoms.

Only a minority of us, it seems, had an immune system strong enough to fight off the virus. A common factor linked many who suffered the worst symptoms, or sadly died: a deficiency in vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin” that is one of the keys to a healthy functioning immune system. A deficiency also makes someone more vulnerable to infectious disease and especially upper respiratory tract infections, which happens to be what COVID-19 is.

One major study in 2017 proved the point. Taking vitamin D supplements protected people against acute respiratory tract infection, and those who were the most deficient benefited the most from taking supplements.1

Nobody can be sure when the first cases of COVID-19 appeared—some think it was early as last September—but infections started to rise exponentially in the winter months, when vitamin D levels are at their lowest. But not every country in the Northern hemisphere—with its weak winter sun—suffered the same. The Nordic countries, for example, had a lower infection rate, but supplementing with vitamin D is already built into their general healthcare programs.

The rest of us—who are told that any more than a few minutes of sunbathing in the summer will cause skin cancer—have been most at risk, as have those who are known to be at increased risk of deficiency, including the elderly, black and Asian people, and diabetics. Data from the UK’s Office for National Statistics revealed that black people are more than four times more likely than white people to die from the virus.

Some researchers are convinced we’ve got it seriously wrong, and instead of being told to stay indoors—as we were for many of the first sunny days of last spring—we should be outdoors, and when we’re back inside, take plenty of vitamin D supplements.

“The circumstantial evidence is very
strong . . . how long do you want to wait in the context of a crisis?” asks Rose Kenny at Trinity College Dublin.

It’s thought the optimum level of vitamin D in our blood is around 100 nmol/L—and yet the average was just 47  nmol/L among people in the UK who died of COVID-19, and only slightly higher in other badly hit countries including Italy and Spain.

Doctors are taught that vitamin D levels can be low without causing any ill effects, and that a serious deficiency will only cause problems to muscles and bones. In fact, a deficiency has been linked to around 88 conditions, probably including the severity of COVID-19.

But if you’re only seeing a vaccine as the answer, you’ll be blinded by the sunlight and its health-giving powers (which, by the way, are free and can’t be patented).



BMJ 2017; 356: i6583


Ir Med J, 2020; 113: 81

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