In a statement put out last week, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock said the virus had caused much of the UK to spend more time indoors resulting in possible vitamin D deficiency.
“The government is taking action to ensure vulnerable individuals can access a free supply to last them through the darker winter months,” he said.
“This will support their general health, keep their bones and muscles healthy and crucially reduce the pressure on our National Health Service (NHS).”
Hancock acknowledged the growing number of studies indicating vitamin D’s role in protecting against COVID-19 adding, “I have asked the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and Public Health England (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.”
The initiative is set to affect more than 2.5 million vulnerable people across England, where care home residents and the extremely vulnerable will receive deliveries of the vitamin next year.
Deliveries will be free of charge, starting in January, and will include four months’ worth of supplements to last people through the winter months.
The scheme follows efforts in Scotland, where residents will also receive a free four-month supply of vitamin D supplements to help to boost their immune system.
“[Vitamin D] replenishes its stocks through sunlight on the skin,” the NHS stated. “If you were shielding inside until June 19 this year you may have had less sunlight than usual this summer. This could have an impact on your vitamin D levels.”
The UK government stopped short of stating these supplements were to tackle the virus, as they added evidence of the link of vitamin D to COVID-19 was still being researched with larger scale trials needed.
Dr Alison Tedstone, Chief Nutritionist at Public Health England, said, “Vitamin D is important for our bone and muscle health.
“We advise that everyone, particularly the elderly, those who don’t get outside and those with dark skin, takes a vitamin D supplement containing 10 micrograms (400IU) every day.
“This year, the advice is more important than ever with more people spending more time inside, which is why the government will be helping the clinically extremely vulnerable to get vitamin D.”
Current advice from PHE recommends the supplementation of the vitamin between October and early March to ensure bones and muscles are kept healthy.
The agency also advises those who are more at risk of not getting enough vitamin D in the diet to take a vitamin D supplement all year round with further recommendation to start taking them now even for those eligible for the delivery later in the year.
Meanwhile recommendations by NICE, the UK body in charge of publishing healthcare guidelines, points out there is no evidence supporting vitamin D supplementation to specifically prevent or treat COVID‑19.
However, they add that people should continue to follow UK Government advice on daily vitamin D supplementation to maintain bone and muscle health during the COVID‑19 pandemic.