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Something sinister?

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Those of us of a certain age can remember a more benevolent time[1] in which schoolchildren were given free milk every morning.  Some may also remember the free NHS orange juice and rosehip syrup that was given to young children due to concern that they had insufficient vitamin C in their diets.  In the face of the Covid pandemic, have we just witnessed an echo of that past in the shape of Health Secretary Hancock’s decision to hand out free vitamin D to those considered most vulnerable?  As the BBC reported last week:

“More than 2.5 million vulnerable people in England will be offered free Vitamin D supplements this winter.  The vitamin, which helps to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy, will be delivered to people who are clinically extremely vulnerable, and care homes…

“Health officials say that even in a normal winter, everyone should take 10 micrograms of Vitamin D a day between October and March – and it’s particularly important this year because of coronavirus.”

Although the BBC now concedes that “there is limited evidence that vitamin D protects against or treats Covid-19” they fail to report the various trial results which have now been published, such as the recent Indian clinical trial and the Spanish trial from August; both of which demonstrate the efficacy of vitamin D in the treatment of people hospitalised with Covid.  Indeed, long before SARS-CoV-2 embarked on its world tour, vitamin D was known to be protective against respiratory infections; and there is now a mass of evidence that vitamin D deficiency leaves people more vulnerable to contracting, being hospitalised with and dying from Covid.

Clinical trials are, of course, extremely expensive, which is why we are not about to see “gold standard” evidence that vitamin D supplementation protects against Covid any more than we are going to see genuine large scale trials of cheap generic drugs like the one that gets you banned from social media and Ivermectin:

“Recent research has confounded the belief, held for most of the past 40 years, that ivermectin was devoid of any antiviral characteristics…  Ivermectin has… been demonstrated to be a potent broad-spectrum specific inhibitor of importin α/β-mediated nuclear transport and demonstrates antiviral activity against several RNA viruses by blocking the nuclear trafficking of viral proteins. It has been shown to have potent antiviral action against HIV-1 and dengue viruses, both of which are dependent on the importin protein superfamily for several key cellular processes…”

Importantly, neither of these cheap generic drugs have dangerous side effects – unless you count the results of fraudulent research which seems to have been set up precisely to undermine them – and both are routinely prescribed for a range of conditions other than those they were first licenced for.  And that ought to concern us in the face of a global pandemic where the usual non-emergency licencing processes have been torn up for expensive proprietary drugs like Remdesivir and for novel vaccines.  You don’t need to be an anti-vaxxer to be concerned about the potential risk from vaccines that have been rushed to market; you just need to look at what happened in the previous pandemic.  But insofar as we are prepared to take that risk with an expensive new vaccine, why are we foregoing a much lower risk with cheap generic drugs?

And then there’s vitamin D, which is not so much a drug as a supplement.  Our bodies could manufacture all of the vitamin D we need by spending our days out in the sunlight.  But most of us don’t.  We might obtain some of the vitamin D we require from a handful of foods including oily fish, liver, red meat and egg yolks; but we would have to eat vast quantities to make up for the lack of exposure to sunlight.  We spend far too much time indoors, and at high latitudes we cover our bodies with warm clothing a large part of the time.  People in Sweden can obtain much of the vitamin D they need from cereals and dairy products which have been fortified to protect the population from the effects of long winter nights.  In Britain, vitamin D deficiency is known to be a problem – resulting particularly in broken bones, which can prove fatal, in the elderly – but prior to Covid, the authorities had done nothing about it.

Vitamin D deficiency is further compounded by obesity because fatty tissue absorbs vitamin D.  So the more overweight you are, the more vitamin D you require.  People with dark skin at high latitudes also struggle to produce sufficient vitamin D from sunlight – something that has been put forward as one of a number of possible reasons why BAME populations appear more vulnerable to Covid.

Vitamin D must be really dangerous in high doses though, right?  That would be the only valid reason governments have not recommended it as a possible prophylaxis against Covid.

Actually, no.  Vitamin D is safe in doses far higher than the UK government is preparing to distribute.  Indeed, when Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases was interviewed on Instagram Live, he explained that:

“If you are deficient in vitamin D, that does have an impact on your susceptibility to infection. So I would not mind recommending, and I do it myself taking vitamin D supplements.”

What he did not disclose was the dose of vitamin D he was taking.  However, in an e-mail exchange with Kari Hjelt, Fauci responded that he takes 6,000 International Units of vitamin D3 per day.  This is in line with, though perhaps a little higher than the dose recommended in various research papers for protecting against Covid.  Crucially though, it is an order of magnitude greater than the dose – 400 International Units – being distributed by the UK government.

Worse still, according to the BBC:

“People on the clinically extremely vulnerable list will get a letter inviting them to opt in for a supply of Vitamin D tablets to be delivered to their homes.  Deliveries will start in January. They’ll provide four months’ worth of free supplements.” (My emphasis)

Note that the winter solstice is on 21 December; so by January the days will already be lengthening.  And given the government’s track record on just about everything else, January is likely to be a vague target rather than a guarantee.  Indeed, it wouldn’t surprise me if there were people still waiting to get their vitamin D supplements at Easter.  For vitamin D supplementation to have an impact, it had to be distributed before the clocks went back, not a month after the shortest day.

To summarise then, despite the UK being known to have a vitamin D deficiency crisis, and despite vitamin D being known to be protective against respiratory infections, ten months into a pandemic against which there is no officially approved outpatient treatment, and despite a year’s supply of high-dose vitamin D costing less than £10, nobody in government has thought to suggest that supplementation may well help “flatten the curve” with the only side effect being that we all get healthier bones.  And even when someone finally gets around to handing out vitamin D, they distribute it too late and at a tenth of the strength required.  It’s almost like they want it to fail…

Might it be that the deadening hand of Big Pharma is deliberately obstructing access to anything which might stand in the way of their expensive new drugs and vaccines?  It is certainly far harder to dispel this accusation when it turns out that the government’s Chief Science advisor has a £600,000 stake in one of the vaccine manufacturers. 

Might it be something even more sinister – a government which appears to be maximising the harm from the pandemic through such actions as cancelling cancer testing and closing heart disease wards, selling off the PPE stockpile, sending infected patients into unprotected care homes, locking down too late and then opening up too early, paying cronies to cock-up the track and trace system, failing to protect low-paid workers who are asked to isolate, and allowing more than a million people to change address in a single weekend in September.  Failing to give advice on risk-free supplements which were known to protect against respiratory infections looks like just another means by which the government has increased the death rate.  It is not difficult to see why so many conspiracy theories have taken hold.

Most likely though, what we are witnessing is the logical conclusion of neoliberal government.  Having sold off or cut the vast swathes of the economy that post-war government used to administer, and having purged parliament of people who have done real jobs (running hedge funds doesn’t count) before becoming MPs, government is revealed in its naked uselessness in the face of what ought to have been a relatively straightforward emergency.  For all the years that the proponents of neoliberalism promised us “small government,” what they actually delivered was costly and incompetent government. 

As the old saying goes, when your only tool is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.  In this case, the tool is handing out multi-billion pound contracts to friends of the Conservative Party to (mis)manage various responses to the pandemic – people who have absolutely no interest in bringing an early end to the pandemic; but who stand to make huge financial gains from keeping it going for as long as possible.

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Footnote: The motives were not, of course, entirely benign.  Britain had already fought two world wars in the twentieth century.  And on both occasions a large part of the working class male population had proved unfit to serve in the armed forces.  With a Third World War against the Warsaw Pact considered likely, they were merely building us up like lambs for a slaughter which, thankfully, never arrived.

As you made it to the end…

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