It had to happen. Vitamin supplements are promoted for every malaise, and COVID-19 is the hottest business opportunity one can get. After the initial confusion with stem cells, nanotechnology, hormones, irradiation, and of course chloroquine and its derivative hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), the world came to its senses and recognised that only a prescription-free drug can cure COVID-19, otherwise where is the fun in that.
Since most COVID-19 victims are senior citizens, anti-aging companies arrived on the spot offering their proprietary supplements as COVID-19 prevention or even therapeutic medicine. While these fancy NAD+ and resveratrol supplements sound cool and futuristic (anti-aging!) it excludes other hard-working scammer and grifters who also wish to sell something but have patented nothing. The mineral supplement Zinc is literally dirt cheap and thus has a potential, since it was prophesied by quack-messiah Vovka “Zev” Zelenko of New York as important ingredient in the HCQ cure, but then again, you still need prescription drugs HCQ and the antibiotic azithromycin for Zinc to do its magic on COVID-19. A vitamin would be perfect, pensioners always need those, vitamins are always good, the word alone is reassuring. But which vitamin?
While scratching their bottoms about whether to go for Vitamin A, Vitamin B or Vitamin C (which cures all diseases anyway, cf Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling), with some Dutch merchants peddling Vitamin K, and surely Vitamin E is an option, too, the experts seem to have eventually arrived at Vitamin D. Why?
Well, as the coronavirus is raging uncontrolled in the United States because the President Donald Trump does not like bad news, most deaths happened among the Black and LatinX communities. Which is for sure not something making the Imperial Wizard Trump sad, but it made some biomedical scientists think. What if it is not the poverty, failed public health and blatant institutional racism which kills Black Americans in the pandemic, but something as simple and cheap as a lack of Vitamin D? In humans, the vitamin is naturally produced by exposure to sunlight, of which white skins takes up more than dark skin, so you see where this is going.
If you need scientific guidance, genetics professor Ewan Birney, director of EMBL-EBI in Edinburgh, can explain. Even a Time article highly critical of the Vitamin D theory of COVID-19 medicine wrote this:
“Indeed, many of the known risk factors for COVID-19—being Black or Hispanic; being elderly; having an underlying health condition; having a high body mass index—are also risk factors for vitamin-D deficiency.”
You see, since LatinX people are not perfectly pale white, they count as Vitamin-D deficient also, even if they live in the polar regions of California. In fact, US insurances might register being non-white as pre-existing medical condition (yes, I am aware they are eager to do exactly this as Trump dismantles Obama’s Affordable Care Act). Even The Lancet chimed in with some race medicine, via a comment article by British experts Adrian Martineau and Nita Forouhi endorsing Vitamin D supplements:
“The striking overlap between risk factors for severe COVID-19 and vitamin D deficiency, including obesity, older age, and Black or Asian ethnic origin, has led some researchers to hypothesise that vitamin D supplementation could hold promise as a preventive or therapeutic agent for COVID-19.”
Yes, we forgot Asians! Which explains such horrendous rates of COVID-19 in India, it must be the dark skin, and the lack of sun because unlike COVID-19 resistant British folks, those Indian farmers are always indoors…, ah crap, never mind. Since when are non-peer reviewed reality facts allowed to interfere with peer-reviewed science?
Vitamin D theory of COVID-19 is beautiful. It allows you to roll out any crypto-racist bunk and pretend it’s solid science, while peddling prescription-free supplements out the back. And in America, they love racial medicine, US hospital algorithms distribute (or rather deny) healthcare according to your skin colour, which bottom line is that Black people are more primitive than whites and therefore need less medical care.
Studies correlating COVID-19 to Vitamin D levels arrived quickly as the pandemic grew, and now gain traction as the HCQ hype declines. This paper from 3 September is probably the most headline-grabbing one, because it is from USA and appeared in JAMA. No wait, it’s the downstream Open Access cash-making outlet, JAMA Network Open, where it costs $3000 to publish.
David O. Meltzer, Thomas J. Best, Hui Zhang, Tamara Vokes, Vineet Arora, Julian Solway Association of Vitamin D Status and Other Clinical Characteristics With COVID-19 Test Results JAMA Network Open (2020) doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.19722
The authors accessed health records of COVID-19 patients and concluded that those who eventually caught the virus had low Vitamin D levels before:
“In this cohort study of 489 patients who had a vitamin D level measured in the year before COVID-19 testing, the relative risk of testing positive for COVID-19 was 1.77 times greater for patients with likely deficient vitamin D status compared with patients with likely sufficient vitamin D status, a difference that was statistically significant.”
Yes, the skin colour of patients was noted. None of the participants was actually Vitamin D deficient, so the authors set some threshold to assign them as “likely deficient”. They did notice that many had various pre-existing conditions like obesity, diabetes or cardiovascular problems, all COVID-19 risk factors. Low Vitamin D levels used to be see in the pre-COVID-19 times just an general biomarker of bad health, but now they became the main cause for getting infected with COVID-19 in the first place. Maybe confused by the fact that the majority of their analysed patients were not white, the authors conclude:
“Since African American and Hispanic populations in the US have both high rates of vitamin D deficiency and bear a disproportionate burden of morbidity and mortality from COVID-19,35,36 they may be particularly important populations to engage in studies of whether vitamin D can reduce the incidence and burden of COVID-19.“
What a lovely idea. Instead of providing public health and insurance available to everyone, why not telling Black and Hispanic Americans to pop some cheap Vitamin D pills.
“In the 1980s and ’90s, studies emerged that found a role for vitamin D in immune function. This, according to Alexander, led to a deluge of clinical studies finding reduced vitamin D levels in people affected by a host of diseases including asthma, cancer, diabetes and multiple sclerosis.”
Those cancer and asthma studies are now long forgotten, except by some unscrupulous vitamin peddlers. Correlation is not causation, but unfortunately not every scientist will agree with Alexander. Aside of rickets (which is a real Vitamin D deficiency syndrome) medical science has so far failed to convincingly connect any other disease to Vitamin D deficiency. Thanks to modern diet, there are anyway only few people with critically low Vitamin D levels in need of supplementation, while these unnecessary supplements do increase calcium uptake up to the formation of kidney stones. Doctors already noticed cases of Vitamin D poisoning in COVID-19 risk group patients who tried to “boost immunity”.
But then again, there is COVID-19 pandemic going on and their is no time for the scientific method.
The market for Vitamin D was already there, which is another beauty of the approach. Because everyone was convinced that showing yourself outside unprotected will immediately give you skin cancer, a notion supported by the extremely successful sunscreen industry (even though “melanoma rates in the U.S. have tripled since the 1970s, even as the use of sunscreen has increased“), there evolved a need to counteract the sun avoidance and the resulting potential Vitamin D deficiency with supplements. And now there is COVID-19 on, and what coincidence, Vitamin D helps also against that! The science has spoken.
Especially since the Vitamin D approach is such great business and also great fun. How about European COVID-19 death rates explained with dark-skinned Italians and lazy Spaniards doing their siesta in the shadows while the Nordic races toil in the fields, with their proud white faces turned towards the sun? Here is a paper from the (apparently COVID-19-resistant) UK on just that, its p-values for Vitamin D levels vs COVID-19 cases and mortality just happen to be exactly p=0.05, the magic value.
Petre Cristian Ilie, Simina Stefanescu & Lee Smith The role of vitamin D in the prevention of coronavirus disease 2019 infection and mortality Aging Clinical and Experimental Research (2020) doi: 10.1007/s40520-020-01570-8
“The Southern European countries have lower levels of vitamin D because of decreased exposure (prefer the shade in strong sun)  and also as skin pigmentation decreases vitamin D synthesis . Northern part of Europe’s mean levels are better as a consequence of the consumption of cod liver oil and vitamin D supplements as well as fortification of milk and milk products (Finland) .”
Indeed, it must be all that Surströmming which Swedes eat, if anything it ensures social distancing. You might wonder who takes such a braindead and bigoted study seriously. Professor Helmut Schatz does, one of Germany’s top endocrinologists. Former governmental advisor Professor Hans-Konrad Biesalski of University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart analysed 30 studies, including the coronavirus effects on the “black race“, and urged Germans in June 2020 to take Vitamin D supplements for COVID-19. Elsewhere in Germany, the ultra-right xenophobes and rabid COVIDIOTS of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) demanded, also in June 2020 that the German Bundestag issues Vitamin D recommendation for COVID-19 prevention. Their proposal was rejected.
But also Italians and Spaniards themselves are jumping the bandwagon. Endocrinologist Luigi Gennari of University of Sienna presented his research to a closed circle at a conference, and nobody else, which should suffice. He concluded:
“Our data give strong observational support to previous suggestions that reduced vitamin D levels may favor the appearance of severe respiratory dysfunction and increase the mortality risk in patients affected with COVID-19“.
And in Spain, just look at this clinical trial from Cordoba, which used the Vitamin D analogue calcifediol. It cannot be more convincing:
Marta Entrenas Castillo, Luis Manuel Entrenas Costa, José Manuel Vaquero Barrios, Juan Francisco Alcalá Díaz, José López Miranda, Roger Bouillon, José Manuel Quesada Gomez “Effect of Calcifediol Treatment and best Available Therapy versus best Available Therapy on Intensive Care Unit Admission and Mortality Among Patients Hospitalized for COVID-19: A Pilot Randomized Clinical study” The Journal of steroid biochemistry and molecular biology (2020) doi: 10.1016/j.jsbmb.2020.105751
Only 2% of the 50 Vitamin D treated patients went to ICU as opposed to 50% of 26 patients who did not get Vitamin D!
Now, I really must commend the authors for their cleverness. The clinical trial started by dosing COVID-19 patients with HCQ, but then that chloroquine cargo cult ship has sailed, or rather ran aground (its unhinged captain Didier Raoult crying sabotage as Marseille went from HCQ religion hotspot to COVID-19 hotspot). Hence the clever Cordoba investigators quickly switched to a new magic drug, Vitamin D. The journal they chose is not really specialising on clinical trials (aside of reviews), but it does specialise on Vitamin D research. Which was good enough to find the right reviewers. Who agreed with the authors that the many COVID-19 deaths Spain has experienced are due to Spaniards not getting enough sun in the winter.
Update 17.11.2020. The Castillo et al paper seems to be extremely authoritative, maybe because not many bothered to read it properly, but here is a nice takedown by DW Science. It quotes Martin Smollich, pharmacology professor at University of Lübeck in Germany, who noticed that the placebo control arm of the clinical trial included 19% of diabetics and 57% of hypertension sufferers, who are the highest COVID-19 risk group. The Vitamin D arm, where the survival rates were so much higher, happened to have merely 6% of diabetics and 24% of hypertension patients. But it passed peer review, so how dares Smollich to criticise it now!
Now, we arrive at some really serious money making. With these authors it cannot be any more obvious that they are all unashamed Vitamin D industry shills. Especially the last character on that paper.
Harvey W. Kaufman, Justin K. Niles, Martin H. Kroll, Caixia Bi, Michael F. Holick SARS-CoV-2 positivity rates associated with circulating 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels PloS one (2020) doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0239252
The first four authors are employees of Quest Diagnostics, which tests your blood Vitamin D levels and then sells you Vitamin D supplements. The last author is the notorious Michael Holick, described by New Yorker as “The Child-Abuse Contrarian”, who issues bizarre medical diagnoses over the phone and whose custom-curated promotional Wikipedia profile was eventually vandalised by the reality. A Controversies section was added:
“Holick has been involved in several medical controversies. While at Boston University, he was asked to leave the Division of Dermatology because of his promoting the medical benefits of sun exposure. He accepted research funding for this work from a non-profit tanning bed company, considered by many to be an important potential bias. Barbara Gilchrest, then head of the department at Boston University, called Holick’s book “shlock science” and Holick “a poster boy for the tanning industry”.
Holick received nearly $163,000 from 2013 to 2017 from pharmaceutical companies, according to Medicare’s Open Payments database, which tracks payments from drug and device manufacturers. The companies paying him included Sanofi-Aventis, which markets vitamin D supplements; Shire, which makes drugs for hormonal disorders that are given with vitamin D; Amgen, which makes an osteoporosis treatment; and Roche Diagnostics and Quidel Corp., which both make vitamin D tests.
Holick has also been criticized by other physicians because of his testimony, defending accused child abusers by asserting that Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is a cause of non-traumatic fractures in infancy (rather than abuse). Experts in Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, as well as pediatricians specializing in traumatic bone injury, refute Holick’s position, which is completely unsubstantiated by the medical literature. In over 300 criminal cases Holick has never concluded that the child who suffered broken bones had been abused. In one case of a child who had suffered broken bones in which Holick defended the accused parent, the child later went on to suffer severe brain injury, for which the parent has been indicted.
Since May 2017, Holick has been barred from evaluating or treating children by Boston Medical Center, which subsequently reported him to the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine for “health care facility discipline.” 
His promotion of Vitamin D has been called extreme, even speculating that the extinction of dinosaurs caused by a lack of it in reduced sunlight.“
Would you as a journal editor accept anything from such a “scientist”? Well, PLOS One did. Maybe they were impressed by the sheer numbers of patients:
“This study used a retrospective, observational analysis of deidentified tests performed at a national clinical laboratory to determine if circulating 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D) levels are associated with severe acute respiratory disease coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) positivity rates. Over 190,000 patients from all 50 states with SARS-CoV-2 results performed mid-March through mid-June, 2020 and matching 25(OH)D results from the preceding 12 months were included.“
Over One Hundred Ninety Thousands of patients, who can say no to such a gigantic clinical trial dataset, especially if it promises The Cure for COVID-19? If it reminds you of the Surgisphere scandal for which both The Lancet and NEJM fell arse over tit, well, this is how scholarly publishing works. The story counts, not the author’s or their dataset’s credibility.
Holick’s Boston University of course proudly issued a press release. But PLOS One might have second thoughts:
Having tweeted their concern on 24 September, the next day PLOS One published yet another paper by Holick about curing COVID-19 with Vitamin D. It first appeared as preprint on the Elsevier’s SSRN server, which is a much fancier preprint server than others because it is named “Preprints with THE LANCET“. Now in PLOS One, what honour for the journal.
Zhila Maghbooli, Mohammad Ali Sahraian, Mehdi Ebrahimi, Marzieh Pazoki, Samira Kafan, Hedieh Moradi Tabriz, Azar Hadadi, Mahnaz Montazeri, Mehrad Nasiri, Arash Shirvani, Michael F. Holick Vitamin D sufficiency, a serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D at least 30 ng/mL reduced risk for adverse clinical outcomes in patients with COVID-19 infection PLoS ONE (2020) doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0239799
This time, the authors saved “only” 235 patients in Iran, while PLOS One informs you: “The authors have declared that no competing interests exist“. Not even Holick, half of whose business is Vitamin D grifting (the other half being helping child abusers in court).
But now, the best Vitamin D for COVID-19 paper ever. Straight from the French Parliament, Assemblée National, and its MP, Joachim Son-Forget. This professional politician once studied medicine and did a PhD in psychology, which automatically made him expert for many things sciency, these days always ready with an educated and even peer-reviewed guess about COVID-19. Son-Forget has been promoting HCQ on Twitter and he of course is a great admirer of the greatest French scientist of all times, Didier Raoult (for whom he even raised money, it seems).
A great scientific mind himself, Son-Forget (and colleagues) postulated in Medical Hypotheses, a comedy magazine run by Elsevier, “that betathalassemic heterozygote population prevalence is correlated to immunity against COVID-19, by a regression“. Would you like to see the data they based this assumption on?
The polymath knowledge of Dr Son-Forget, MP is evident in his genius way of plotting that regression.
Incidentally, the authors list there was exactly same as on this stroke of genius, this time about the Vitamin D:
Édouard Lansiaux, Philippe P. Pébaÿ, Jean-Laurent Picard, Joachim Son-Forget Covid-19 And Vit-D: Disease Mortality Negatively Correlates With Sunlight Exposure Spatial and Spatio-temporal Epidemiology (2020) doi: 10.1016/j.sste.2020.100362
The authors (or rather only Edouard Lansiaux who has to vouch for everything) analysed COVID-19 related health data from France, except colonies and Corsica because the authors decided they have much sun but not enough hospitals there. They concluded:
“in continental metropolitan France, average annual sunlight hours are significantly (for a p-value of 1.532 × 10−32) correlated to the COVID-19 mortality rate, with a Pearson coefficient of -0.636. This correlation hints at a protective effect of sunlight exposure against COVID-19 mortality.“
And indeed, there is no COVID-19 at all in Marseille, famous for its radiant sun (who is of course Didier Raoult). Don’t believe the news.
A Letter to Editor regarding that article by Son-Forget was published in the same journal, its authors are Florian Naudet, Clara Locher, Alain Braillon and André Gillibert. They listed “Major statistical flaws”in Son-Forget’s research and concluded:
“the manuscript has no informative value at all concerning any association between “Covid-19 And Vit-D”. Therefore, we think that the article methods and conclusions are too flawed to have any value.“
But, as scholarly authorities advice, we must remain open regarding Vitamin D as COVID-19 medicine. Especially since the former CDC director Tom Frieden advised Americans already in March 2020 to take Vitamin D supplements for COVID-19 prevention.
The Vitamin D hype is working. Even Anthony Fauci himself recently advocated the supplement:
“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“.
The 78 year old Fauci also recommended taking Vitamin C:
“that vitamin C is “a good antioxidant.” “So if people want to take a gram or two at the most [of] vitamin C, that would be fine”
Sure, people in Fauci’s age are in danger of vitamin deficiency and some might need supplements to support their weakened immune system. But old age is about much more than maybe lacking some Vitamin D, so the causality with COVID-19 severity is very strenuous there at best. Maybe it all is Fauci’s diplomatic way for distracting Americans from taking HCQ. Or drinking bleach.
And anyway, the only real prevention cure for COVID-19 is cabbage.
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