Scientists in the UK are looking for 5,000 volunteers to take part in a new clinical trial to test the effectiveness of vitamin D in boosting the immune system against COVID-19.

Participants who are not already supplementing ‘the sunshine vitamin’ will be subject to a finger-prick test to determine their existing vitamin D levels; those shown to be deficient will be sent tablets to take at home for six months to correct their levels during winter.

The trial, named CORONAVIT – which is being led by researchers from the Queen Mary University of London and funded by Barts Charity – will use a higher dose of vitamin than is offered in regular supplements, giving participants either 800iu or 3,200iu a day.

David Jolliffe, principal investigator of the study, says this ‘test and treat’ approach could generate a ‘definitive answer’ to the question of whether vitamin D can help protect against COVID and other acute respiratory infections, and indeed reduce poor outcomes from the disease.

“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,” comments Jolliffe.

Falling through the gaps

It comes as the University of Brighton calls for more action to prevent against vitamin D deficiencies in care homes.

Writing for the British Medical Journal (BMJ), co-authors Joe Williams, public health graduate, and Carol Williams, principal lecturer for health promotion and public health, argue that ‘moving into a care home should not mean an inevitable drift into vitamin deficiency.

The article, Responsibility for vitamin D supplementation of elderly care home residents in England: falling through the gap between medicine and food, outlines how, under current guidance, ‘care homes are only allowed to give residents vitamin supplements that have been prescribed – but doctors have also been advised by the NHS not to prescribe preventative vitamins because they can be bought cheaply over the counter’, highlighting the problems with viewing vitamin D as medicine, rather than food supplements.

“Those out of sight, including older adults in residential care settings, can often be forgotten,” says Joe Williams. “There is an urgent need for widespread vitamin D supplementation, and in particular in care home,” adds Carol Williams.