Researchers from Queen Mary University of London, funded by Barts Charity, have launched a new clinical trial to investigate whether taking vitamin D could protect people from COVID-19.
CORONAVIT will run for six months and involve more than 5,000 people to find out whether a ‘test-and-treat’ approach to correct people’s vitamin D deficiency during winter will reduce the risk and/or severity of COVID-19 and other acute respiratory infections.
People will take part in the study from their homes, without any face-to-face visits needed, as all vitamin D tests and supplements will be sent via the post. Any UK resident aged 16 or more can participate if they are not already taking high-dose vitamin D. To register interest, people can contact the study team on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Strategies to boost the UK population’s immunity to respiratory infections are urgently needed pending development of an effective vaccine for coronavirus. There have been recent debates as to whether vitamin D – the ‘sunshine vitamin’ – could play a key role in protecting people from COVID-19; however, definite evidence on this is lacking.
Lead researcher Professor Adrian Martineau from Queen Mary University of London said: “There is mounting evidence that vitamin D might reduce the risk of respiratory infections, with some recent studies suggesting that people with lower vitamin D levels may be more susceptible to coronavirus.
“Many people in the UK have low vitamin D levels, particularly in the winter and spring, when respiratory infections are most common. Vitamin D deficiency is more common in older people, in people who are overweight, and in Black and Asian people – all of the groups who are at increased risk of becoming very ill with COVID-19.
“The UK government already recommends that people take a low-dose vitamin D supplement over the winter to protect their bone health, but we do not know if this will have effect on COVID-19 or if higher doses might be able to provide protection against the virus. The CORONAVIT trial will test whether higher doses of vitamin D might offer protection against winter respiratory infections including COVID-19.”
UK sunshine is too weak to make vitamin D in the skin between October and April, and dietary sources of vitamin D are limited: consequently, around 2 in 5 of the UK adult population have inadequate levels of vitamin D over winter and spring. The UK government recommends that the general population considers taking vitamin D supplements at a dose of 400 International Units (IU) or 10 micrograms per day during winter and spring. This has recently been extended to a recommendation of year-round supplementation in view of potentially decreased sun exposure during ‘lockdown’.
However, early unpublished data from the Queen Mary team shows that 2 in 3 people are not following this advice, potentially due to a reluctance to buy and take a supplement without a test result that shows they are vitamin D deficient.
The intervention to be evaluated involves doing a postal finger prick vitamin D test, which will be processed in an NHS lab. Participants who are found to have low levels of vitamin D in their blood will then be given a six months’ supply of either 800 or 3,200 IU of vitamin D a day.
The research team will then track the incidence of doctor-diagnosed or laboratory-confirmed acute respiratory infection in the participants, including COVID-19, to see whether vitamin D supplementation has had an effect on their risk and severity of infection.
Principal Investigator of the study, Dr David Jolliffe from Queen Mary University of London, added: “CORONAVIT trial has the potential to give a definitive answer to the question of whether vitamin D offers protection against COVID-19. Vitamin D supplements are low in cost, low in risk and widely accessible; if proven effective, they could significantly aid in our global fight against the virus.”