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Vitamin D & Covid-19

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Thursday, May 7, 2020

MUSC World-Class Vitamin D Research Team to Study Connection to COVID-19 Prevention and Treatment

Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) College of Medicine scientists and clinicians, led by world-renowned vitamin D research experts Bruce Hollis, Ph.D., professor emeritus in the Department of Pediatrics, and Carol Wagner, M.D., a professor in the Department of Pediatrics and neonatologist, are planning a focused research effort to determine if individuals with sufficient baseline levels of vitamin D have more protection against severe COVID-19 infection.

Recent reports in the medical literature point toward a potential link between vitamin D deficiency and the pathogenesis of COVID-19 in certain patients. This information aligns with what Hollis, Wagner and other national experts have established in their own vitamin D research in at-risk populations – unrelated to COVID-19 – that vitamin D deficiency is more prevalent among African Americans and individuals with more melanin in their skin as well as in some elderly nursing home residents who have very low exposure to sunlight. In addition, effective vitamin D repletion can be accomplished safely and with minimal expense.

“Our team has the ability to determine vitamin D levels for COVID-19-positive patients and track that information to begin this work. This area of study is worthy of their expertise and efforts,” said David J. Cole, M.D., FACS, MUSC president. “This is a great opportunity to raise awareness that this due diligence is needed so we can potentially help particularly vulnerable populations in our community.”

To be clear, neither these studies nor MUSC are suggesting that vitamin D cures or prevents COVID-19 infection. However, the body of prior and emerging scientific evidence would suggest that individuals with low vitamin D levels who contract COVID-19, including African Americans and elderly nursing home residents, might experience worse clinical outcomes than other groups with normal vitamin D levels.

“It is important to study this topic to determine if recommending vitamin D supplementation for vulnerable populations can make a difference in COVID-19 outcomes. If valid,” Cole explained, “we would have an inexpensive, readily available strategy not only to help these groups of individuals but also the general population of South Carolina and beyond.”

MUSC scientists point out that recent COVID-19 and vitamin D studies suggest that at-risk individuals with historically low levels of vitamin D also had increased severity of COVID-19 infection and worse clinical outcomes, especially if the viral infection reached the lower respiratory tract. Certain cells located there are known primary targets of the virus, and if affected, it becomes harder for the lungs to initiate tissue repair and rebound from an infection, thus causing acute respiratory distress and the hospitalization of patients nationwide.

Hollis, Wagner and their team are rapidly pursuing clinical studies to validate or refute the clinical assumption that when patients have sufficient vitamin D levels, their immune responses to the virus’ primary targets are enabled, stronger and more capable of fighting off the most acute form of COVID-19.

“If we know that certain groups of the population are already at high risk for deficiency, and recent, valid studies suggest that increasing vitamin D levels might help prevent or lessen the severity of the disease, it would seem irresponsible to us as health care providers and scientists not to pursue this for our statewide and national community,” Wagner said. “We know vitamin D has a critical role in many functions of our overall health, so we have a responsibility to our families, neighbors, coworkers, friends and community to help answer this question.”

Essentially, the team seeks to replicate recent findings related to COVID-19 and vitamin D deficiency and explore the idea that patients might need to reach sufficient vitamin D levels through the appropriate clinical standard dosing of IV or oral supplements or, in some cases, simply get more exposure to sunlight. As the research effort matures, Hollis and Wagner plan to offer guidance on whether supplementation in certain individuals improves their clinical outcomes following a positive COVID-19 test. In addition, they hope to offer insight into whether vitamin D supplementation for all South Carolinians could improve their vitamin D statuses and mitigate the severity of COVID19 should they become infected.

“Our previous work has demonstrated that African Americans and other vulnerable populations can achieve vitamin D sufficiency through clinically validated supplements, which is a relatively inexpensive therapy that has a large safety profile when given in doses between 4,000 to 6,000 international units a day to adults,” Hollis said. “Some individuals with low levels of melanin in their skin can achieve better vitamin D sufficiency just by standing or sitting for 15 to 20 minutes in the direct sunlight each day that its possible, which is another easy way to address low vitamin D levels.”

Scientists know that vitamin D is present in very few foods, and typically at lower levels than what is needed for sufficiency, but it can be produced by the body when human skin is exposed to ultraviolet rays from sunlight, which triggers vitamin D synthesis. It promotes calcium absorption by the gut and helps strengthen bones. Additionally, vitamin D has been shown to play an important role in a number of other bodily processes like modulation of cell growth and differentiation and enabling proper innate and adaptive immune functions to fight off pathogens. It’s also thought to protect against some chronic conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers.

Hollis and Wagner have more than 60 years of combined vitamin D research experience, with a collective body of work referenced and replicated across the spectrum by institutions such as Harvard University and the National Institutes of Health. They have accrued thousands of citations and have been published in numerous peer-reviewed journals on various subtopics around vitamin D deficiency and sufficiency.

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SAAAACF Report Underscores Inequity in San Antonio

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Groundbreaking study offers in-depth look at the state of the local African American community

SAN ANTONIO — The local African American community continues to face a significant challenge in closing socioeconomic opportunity gaps as reflected by leading social indicators, according to a new study.

The groundbreaking new report, State of the African American Community in San Antonio and Bexar County, is a joint effort by the San Antonio Area Foundation (SAAFdn) and the San Antonio Area African American Community Fund (SAAAACF). It paints a thorough picture of how much work remains to be done to level the playing field for the local Black community – though recent initiatives are striving to reverse the trend.

We’re all well aware of the fact that our beloved city does suffer from socioeconomic disparity and this extensive report reflects this reality when it comes to the African American community

Marjie French

“We’re all well aware of the fact that our beloved city does suffer from socioeconomic disparity and this extensive report reflects this reality when it comes to the African American community,” said Marjie French, CEO of the Area Foundation. “That’s why we’re supporting nonprofits that address these challenges in order to help create a community where everyone has a chance to succeed.”

Toward that goal, the new community-led study – research conducted by Community Information Now – serves as a clarion call for all of us to think more about how we can help our fellow neighbors in need, said Bobby Blount, Chairman of the SAAAACF Board of Directors.

“This report does more than validate what most of us know: African Americans face many challenges in our community,” Blount said. “It provides a foundation for everyone to understand, discuss and take action to improve the livelihood of San Antonians.”

The research was based on various societal focus areas, selected by a 20-member community advisory committee. Some key findings:

• Population: African Americans comprise seven percent of Bexar County; about 20 percent of African Americans are military veterans; in about half of Black households where grandparents live with their minor grandchildren, those grandparents are raising their grandchildren.

• Housing: African Americans have the lowest rate of home ownership (41 percent); more than one-third (37 percent) of Black mortgage applicants are denied; overrepresentation in public housing (20 percent of all HUD-subsidized households).

• Education: Majority of Black students attend Judson ISD, Northside ISD and Northeast ISD; among all districts and charters, there’s overrepresentation in disciplinary alternative programs and out-of-school suspensions as well as in special education programs; underrepresentation in gifted and talented programs and Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

• Finance: African Americans have a lower median income ($48,509) than the county average ($57,157); nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of work-eligible African Americans are in the workforce; they are more likely than the county workforce overall to be unemployed (seven percent).

• Business: Only one percent of San Antonio-New Braunfels metro area businesses with paid staff and five percent of solo-run businesses are Black-owned.

• Health: About one in six (17 percent) working-age African Americans does not have health insurance and are also more likely to have medical debt in collections.

• Criminal justice: African Americans are overrepresented in police arrests as well as in criminal court cases; Blacks – along with Latinos – are the least to be released in cite and release cases for some misdemeanor offenses.

• Social connection: Majority of African Americans (83 percent) have broadband access but still trail other racial/ethnic groups; San Antonio is home to more than 200 Black churches with an average membership of 120 parishioners (excluding megachurches); about six percent of African Americans moved here from another Texas county or out of state.
The advisory committee, led by Blount, consulted with nonprofit advocacy organization Texas Appleseed to develop various policy recommendations to address the inequities highlighted in the report. Among the recommendations:

• Implement alternative methods of traffic law enforcement, including standardizing collection of metrics based on race and ethnicity.

• Invest in public defense to ensure those unable to retain counsel receive equal representation within the criminal justice system.

• Expand eligibility requirements for early education programs in order to enable Black children to be more kindergarten-ready.

• Create more opportunities for Black students to access Advanced Placement courses and gifted and talented programs.

• Expand paid internships as well as outreach programs to increase African American young adult participation in the workforce.

• Make more resources available and lift barriers impeding access to credit in order to increase financial stability for low-income African American households.

• Expand lending and support services to Black small business owners and entrepreneurs.

Though the new report leaves no doubt as to the tremendous challenge ahead, SAAFdn and SAAAACF are not sitting idle. A renewed focus on equity and social justice have led to the creation of strong and effective initiatives meant to close the opportunity gaps identified in the study. Some examples:

• Creation of the SAAAACF Social Justice Fund providing bail and legal aid to those facing low-level offenses.

• SAAFdn teaming up with UP Partnership on implementing Blue Meridian national funding leading to Youth Leadership Development and Workforce Development grants to nonprofits primarily focused on helping communities of color.

• SAAFdn supporting the Corporate Partners for Racial Equity coalition formed by top San Antonio business executives contributing more than $13 million into programs on equitable education, economic opportunities and social justice.

• SAAFdn partnership with the City of San Antonio/Metro Health providing grants to address health disparities exacerbated by the pandemic.

• SAAFdn launching its first-ever San Antonio Equity Fellowship Program, a unique professional development program to champion and help grow nonprofit leaders of color.

• SAAFdn partnering with Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) on the Leading To Change: Building Equity In Community Program focusing on equitable outcomes on affordable housing.

The report concludes with first-person “community voices” essays featuring local African American experts weighing in on the social indicators examined – each voice poignantly bringing to life the somber significance of the statistics. They are: Dr. Gary Bates, Dr. Adena Williams Loston, Ken Lowe, Dr. Travis Batts, Douglas Greene, Darryl E. Harris, Dr. Kenneth R. Kemp and Deborah Omowale Johnson.

Omowale Johnson, CEO and Director of the San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum, issued a critical reminder that the local Black community’s relatively small size doesn’t make it any less part of the diverse fabric of our great city.

“The Black community making up 7% of Bexar County may seem at first to be an insignificant group of people,” Omowale Johnson wrote. “However, if the community does not collectively recognize the impact of these statistics, the economic segregation gap will widen.”


About the San Antonio Area Foundation:
The San Antonio Area Foundation (SAAFdn) has served as the city’s community-giving headquarters for nearly 60 years, growing to become one of the top 20 community foundations in the nation. The Area Foundation helps donors achieve their charitable goals supporting our community’s greatest needs, managing more than 500 charitable funds nearly $1 billion in assets. Beyond serving hundreds of nonprofit organizations every year through training and grantmaking, where total impact exceeded $71 million in 2020, the Area Foundation operates a strong student scholarship program. Over $37 million has been invested in our future leaders since 1969 through more than 100 scholarship funds. Learn more at saafdn.org.

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MLK Day of Service

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Alpha Tau Omega Chapter, San Antonio’s local chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated celebrated the Sorority’s 114th Founding Anniversary with a day on and not a day off. For this year’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. service project they hosted a Community-wide Food and Winter Items Drive. Members collected can goods, non-perishable items, winter wear clothing (hoodies, gloves, jackets, etc.), and blankets. The ladies braved the cold and withstood the windy gusts Saturday morning. Their work was not in vain as they continue to be a service to all mankind.

Thanks to the donations from chapter members and the community, several hundred pounds of food as well as winter wear was collected and will be donated to support the San Antonio Food Bank and homeless street outreach efforts in San Antonio.

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Nation’s Largest MLK March Cancelled

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Due to the current influx of omicron cases in and around San Antonio, the city’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. March has been cancelled. The event was previously scheduled to take place on January 17th, but concerns for public safety and continued presence of the virus on the route led to its cancellation.

The MLK board met and made the decision Thursday night. The board will decide what they plan to include in next Monday’s meeting.

Renee Watson, who is the chairperson of the Martin Luther King march, says that COVID-19 testing will be available together with vaccine shots at Pittman Sullivan Park.

As of Thursday afternoon, the most recent update from DreamWeek says their events are still on but their plans are impromptu.

The in-person event, which had been held every year since 1987, was changed to a virtual event in 2020 at the start of the pandemic.

After over 20,000 diagnoses cases from the first week of the year, it makes sense to cancel a show for safety reasons.

Nathaniel Davis, past chair of Martin Luther King Junior March, died this week. We are saddened by his loss and extend our condolences to his family during this difficult time.

Stayed tuned to Black Video News for the latest statement and updates.

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