MORE than 71,000 people in Scotland have been given free four-month supplies of Vitamin D after doctors and health campaigners say the vitamin can help the immune system and support a patient’s fight against the coronavirus.

The figure was given by Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister’s Questions yesterday in response to a request for an update on the issue from Tory MSP Rachael Hamilton.

“This week, Food Standards Scotland launched a new campaign to encourage people to take vitamin D supplements to maintain bone and muscle health,” the First Minister said.

“That campaign builds on a recent social media campaign and other work by the Government, Food Standards Scotland and Public Health Scotland to raise awareness of the importance of vitamin D.”

READ MORE: 'Treat taking vitamin D like mask-wearing to save lives', say doctors

She added: “That includes, of course, the offer that we made at the end of last year to everyone on the shielding list of a free four months’ supply of daily vitamin D supplements to support their health and wellbeing over the winter months.

“More than 71,000 people who opted in received that in early December last year.

Supplies were sent out in late November, and I understand that that is now complete. The offer included residents in care homes and those in prisons, who will receive their supply through individualised discussions and prescriptions where that is of benefit.”

Hamilton responded: “Vitamin D deficiency is a national issue in Scotland. We know 75% of Covid deaths have been in the 75-plus age category; that vitamin D deficiency is higher in that group of people; that the lockdown has restricted exposure to daylight. There is a distinct need to improve immune health in those vulnerable groups. I am glad to hear that the First Minister is committed to the calls from campaigners to supply free vitamin D to care home residents.”

READ MORE: Scottish Government 'should send vitamin D to every Scottish home'

Last month a group of doctors and scientists published an open letter in The National calling for higher doses of Vitamin D to be given to Scots.

Research has shown that low Vitamin D levels are associated with Covid-19 hospitalisations and deaths.

In April last year a senior doctor said the Scottish Government should consider sending vitamin D tablets to every household after studies had found it may help the body fight off the coronavirus.

The senior doctor, who did not want to be named, told The National: “What we need to be saying to people is to make sure the Government is being explicit about being taking vitamin D, potentially through a public health campaign. They could also send each household vitamin D supplements.

“Give four weeks of supplements to everyone in the household and tell them why they should take it. It should be taken in small doses every day. There needs to be an education campaign saying this is important.”

The doctor added: “It could prevent them going into hospital in the first place.”

The medic continued: “I have concerns about how we are not actively raising the profile of vitamin D supplements at a time of lockdown and shielding which will only make vitamin D deficiency worse. The Scottish Government website was updated last week, but with little fanfare. With an increasingly embattled NHS in the middle of this crisis, it is not clear who it falls to notify this more widely.”

READ MORE: Boris Johnson set to follow Nicola Sturgeon's policy on free vitamin D supplies

Last year a groundbreaking report by researchers at Trinity College Dublin found vitamin D helps prevent respiratory illness and benefits immune function.

Vitamin D is produced in the skin by exposing the body to 10 or 15 minutes of sun a day, however, many people in the northern hemisphere, especially in winter, suffer from a deficiency in it. This deficiency can be treated by supplements and eating certain foods such as eggs, liver and oily fish – such as salmon or mackerel – as well as fortified foods such as cereals and dairy products.


Speaking about the study, Professor Rose Anne Kenny, of Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) said at the time: “We have evidence to support a role for vitamin D in the prevention of chest infections, particularly in older adults who have low levels. In one study, vitamin D reduced the risk of chest infections to half in people who took supplements.

“Though we do not know specifically of the role of vitamin D in Covid-19 infections, given its wider implications for improving immune responses and clear evidence for bone and muscle health, those cocooning and other at-risk cohorts should ensure they have an adequate intake of vitamin D.”

A BMJ study in 2017 reached similar conclusions, finding vitamin D supplementation resulted in a 12% reduction in respiratory patients experiencing an acute tract infection.

The senior doctor explained vitamin D helped the immune system and in appeared to prevent the final stage of Covid 19, when the body's immune system starts to attack itself, a phenomenon known as the cytokine storm.