How to Make COVID Vaccines More Effective: Give People Vitamin and Mineral Supplements

Jerri-Lynn here. It amazes me that one year into this pandemic, public health authorities are not already providing vitamin and mineral supplements to boost immune system function, not only for the elderly, but for everyone, and without relying on the rationale that such a course of action is necessary to boost the effectiveness of COVID vaccines.

By Margaret Rayman, Professor of Nutritional Medicine, University of Surrey, and Philip C Calder, Head of Human Development and Health and Professor of Nutritional Immunology, University of Southampton. Originally published at The Conversation.

If we’re going to rely on COVID-19 vaccines to bring an end to the pandemic, we need to maximise their effects. But one thing that risks undermining their protectiveness is nutritional deficiency, particularly in the elderly.

Older people have weaker immune responses and are known to respond less well than younger adults to many vaccines, including the seasonal influenza vaccine. This is partly down to frailty, which cannot be easily remedied, but can also be due to deficiencies in vitamins and minerals – known as micronutrients.

For the immune system to fight off infection or generate good protection against a disease following vaccination, it needs a variety of micronutrients. This is likely to be just as true for COVID-19 as for other diseases. Given that malnutrition is common among elderly people, raising their vitamin and mineral levels before they get vaccinated could be a way of boosting the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.

Powering Up the Immune System

As the European Food Safety Authority notes, the vitamins A, B6, B9, B12, C and D and the minerals zinc, selenium, iron and copper are all needed for the immune system to function as it should.

Each of these micronutrients – as well as vitamin E – has been shown to play multiple roles in supporting immune function and reducing the risk of infection. Research has found a link between having an impaired immune system and having low amounts of many vitamins and minerals.

When the immune system isn’t properly fuelled and is impaired, this can then lead to poor vaccine responses. For example, a review of nine studies – together involving 2,367 people – found that individuals deficient in vitamin D were less well protected against two strains of flu after having been vaccinated compared to those who had adequate vitamin D levels.

By contrast, randomised controlled trials of micronutrient supplements (such as vitamin B6, vitamin E, zinc and selenium) in older people have been shown to increase the ability of the immune system to respond to challenges. Furthermore, it appears that to work at its best the immune system needs vitamins C, D and E together with zinc and selenium in excess of amounts that can usually be achieved through diet alone. For example, selenium levels above those typically regarded as optimal have been associated with a better cure rate for COVID-19.

Trials in older people have also shown that responses to vaccination are better after actions are taken to improve nutrition. For example, one study found that people aged 65 to 85 who ate five or more servings of fruit and vegetables per day showed a significantly stronger response to a pneumococcal vaccine than people of the same age who ate only two servings of fruit and vegetables or fewer.

In another study, giving daily vitamin E supplements to people over 65 was found to increase the amount of antibodies they produced following vaccination against hepatitis B and tetanus. And in people deficient in selenium, daily supplements were found to improve some aspects of their immune response to a live poliovirus vaccine and also reduce the emergence of mutant viral strains.

This latter result illustrates the fact that new viral variants are more likely to emerge in people whose bodies are “oxidatively stressed”. Oxidative stress can be caused by taking in inadequate levels of antioxidant nutrients – for example selenium and vitamin E.

Time for Booster Supplements

This all becomes problematic when knowing how common nutritional deficiency is. In a review of nutrition spanning seven western countries, people over 60 were found to be consistently deficient in selenium, zinc, iodine and copper.

And, while this issue disproportionately affects the elderly, it is not limited to older age groups. The 2019 UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey showed “a sustained worsening of the dietary intakes and chronic shortages of several of the nutrients involved in supporting the normal immune functions” across age groups. The micronutrients people lacked included vitamins A, B12, C and D and the trace minerals zinc, selenium and copper.

Such micronutrient deficiencies may limit the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines. Given this, we propose that all those at risk of nutritional insufficiency should take a supplement containing the recommended daily allowance of nutrients important to immune function for a period of weeks before and after they receive the vaccine. People who could benefit from this include the underweight elderly, those on restricted diets, and certain BAME communities who may be at risk of vitamin D deficiency.

It’s possible to buy a three-month supply of multivitamin and mineral supplements for no more than £3.00. Ideally, such a supplement would be provided free of charge by governments or health authorities to all those aged over 70. When set against the average cost of vaccination per person, this would provide a great potential gain for only a modest investment.


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  1. Barry

    Yet another article in the Conversation about vitamins and supplements
    Negative ones appear to outnumber positive ones
    Here are 4 (far from an exhaustive list)

    1. Miami Mitch

      I am sorry if this sounds obvious, but what if knowing whether a vitamin was beneficial or harmful depends on the need of the singular person? I would say if someone has high selenium, giving them more would be harmful.

      Maybe that is the problem with all these nutrition studies. If you sample 1000 people and only three of them have a selenium deficiency, overall they would find that selenium was useless or even harmful. But was it useless for those three people?

      My wife had an iron deficiency which caused anemia, so she took iron supplements. Now she is better. My friend, an alcoholic, had a zinc deficiency, so he took zinc supplements and some of his issues went away. I guess that is all that matters.

      But am I supposed to tell them both that vitamins are useless or even dangerous after reading these articles?

      Maybe I need to make an appointment with my doctor to get my levels tested for some of these things…

      1. James P.

        My doctor tests for these things every year in my annual checkup. I supplement when there is a deficiency. It seems to be working – I’m still here.

    2. Tibbett

      Your first link is dead. None of your links mentions immune system function. My thought was that supplementing with reasonable doses of vitamins/minerals could provide enough benefit to outweigh the potential downsides, especially for those over 70. As for public health agencies providing them for free, well, how you gonna pay for it, and still afford the $740 Billion dollar “defense” budget?

    3. AEL

      The first link above is broken. It should be:

      A recent study of the active form of vitamin D in hospitalized patients showed that it both significantly reduced the likelihood of going into ICU and ultimately death. Other studies from Spain have shown that taking vitamin D suppliments habitually reduces likelihood of getting symptomatic Covid 19. MP David Davis did a long spiel on this while addressing Parliament.

  2. PlutoniumKun

    A professor of nutritional medicine and a specialist on nutritional immunology should not be giving out medical advice on nutrients? Thats an interesting concept.

  3. bassmule

    How much of this would be necessary if we all had been taught some basic cooking skills? Possibly the worst U.S. public health policy move was deciding that home ec for girls in high school was sexist. Instead of abolishing it, it should have been a requirement for both boys and girls to learn to cook for themselves. And, of course, there would be the little matter of creating economic conditions in which people were allowed to live reasonably organized lives to actually do it. Yeah, I know: “Dream on!”

    1. PS

      Agreed. And arts and literature are important to be sure, but I think more important that having your average high school student reading Shakespeare or discussing Monet would be some courses in the “Economics” part of Home Ec, namely understanding how credit cards, interest rates, compound interest, etc. works.

      1. John Zelnicker

        February 15, 2021 at 11:32 am

        Quite right! I’ve been talking to folks for many years about teaching middle school kids the basics of household finance, including checking accounts, basic contract rules, and income taxes along with the details you mentioned.

        We have raised a couple of generations without giving them the necessary financial knowledge to succeed in our financialized society (given their circumstances).

      2. JTMcPhee

        Not to mention educating on “control fraud,” regulatory capture, progressive taxation, and MMT. That’s a short list off the top of my grizzled head, more should be covered of course.

    2. John Zelnicker

      February 15, 2021 at 8:57 am

      One of the best things my mother did for me before I went off to college was to teach me some basic cooking skills (along with ironing and sewing).

      I didn’t actually do any cooking to speak of back then, but the lessons served me well once I began a family, especially a few years later when I became the single parent of our two girls. I was able to provide the nutritious meals they needed.

      IMO, everyone needs to learn the basic home ec skills in order to be even minimally self-sufficient.

    3. Larry Y

      As a boy, I learned basic sewing, ironing and cooking at school, i.e. home economics. This was over two decades ago. I suspect in some places it has gone the way of austerity, or displaced by trendier topics such as computer science.

      Though now-a-days, with the Internet, it’s so much easier to cook if one has the time and inclination to do so. Having had home cooking from, say, Italy, Japan or Szechuan – there are stuff I can reproduce at home with a decently stocked pantry and ordinary ingredients.

    1. Phillip Cross

      It would be great if the effect is real. The results they published would make Calcefidiol the most effective treatment for Covid-19 that there is!

      However, it wasn’t a randomized trial in the normal sense. They had 3 wards where everybody got it, and 2 wards where nobody did. Not a double blind randomized study. Were all the wards the same, or were some for more serious cases? Whats the placebo effect? They don’t say. Perhaps, if the paper is ever peer reviewed, they will find other problems.

      If it is such a breakthrough, it seems a bit strange they are just finding this strong effect after a year of people talking about vitamin D, and that prominent “Covid-Skeptic” David Davis MP is the one bringing the study to the world’s attention.

      Strange things do happen though!

      1. AEL

        It is an honor to address the famous Phillip Cross.

        As I understand it, sir, the reported study is part of a larger study among hospitals in Spain. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait for more data.

  4. Edward

    Vitamin supplements don’t necessarily work; they may not be absorbed by the body. A doctor once advised me to take prenatal vitamins because they have been tested for absorption.

    At one point I took a Nature Made vitamin supplement and I think it gave me benign positional vertigo. The vertigo went away when I stopped using the supplement. You also have to trust the vitamin manufacturer to make a good quality supplement that isn’t deficient in some way. I don’t think the government subjects this industry to much scrutiny.

    1. Reality Bites

      This is correct. Fortified foods are notorious for having weak absorption. The FDA only has limited oversight over supplements and nearly none over herbal supplements.

      The other issue with supplements is that you need to get good quality supplements that are not just filler or made from cheap sources. That is a big issue with Vitamin E. Moreover, some vitamins need to be paired with others in order to increase absorption, such as D needs K. I am a big fan of supplements and they should be used to help treat and prevent COVID. But I’m deeply pessimistic that people are getting the correct information.

      1. Dwight

        Yes, and my understanding is that zinc or magnesium oxides don’t absorb as well as citrates or gluconates (don’t quote me on the any of this), and lots of minerals at CVS are sold as oxides so I wonder if they absorb well.

  5. Steven Greenberg

    I have a tendency toward kidney stones. My PCP recommends massive dosages of Vitamin D for my deficiency of that vitamin. My urulogist looks at those recommendations and says “No wonder you have kidney stones”.

    I’ll probably give myself the evil eye for saying this, but my daily drink of lemon tea (without the tea), has kept me free of kidney stones for so long, I don’t even have a regular appointment with the urologist anymore.

    Saying something could be helpful doesn’t mean it is helpful. My pediatrician cousin used to take Vitamin E to protect his heart. He decided that it was actually not a good idea and he stopped.

    They have clinical trials involving tens of thousands (or more) of people testing vaccines because they know that things that seem to be good ideas may not be that good.

    The anti-vaxxers are skeptical of vaccines that have been massively tested, but are willing to try just about any idea that has not been tested. I just don’t get the logic. Well, it is true that the massive greed of the pharmaceutical industry has destroyed their credibility. It’s hard to know what is safe to do.

    1. Cuibono

      “massively tested”
      umm, no.
      as for the mRNA vaccines, the first largish trials done in humans. 2 of them. of moderate quality. short. did not answer many important questions around transmission, durability etc.
      data looks good but many unanswered questions.

  6. Anthony G Stegman

    Selenium deficiency should be rare in the United States. it is found in many foods that people commonly eat. The same can be said for zinc. Getting enough vitamin D is the big challenge, especially for those who eschew dairy products and spend much of the time indoor.

  7. vw

    Jumping in here to note what no one else seems to have: the actual solution to the problem is for the at-risk population to be provided good, nutritious food, which is a substance Nature has already provided and Mankind has already usefully modified, through the traditional art known as “cooking”, to deliver all of these minerals etc. in a targeted fashion to the levels the body requires.

    The point I – and I hope others – am taking away from this study is that America seems to have a great lack of this substance called “nutritious food”, and any serious public health effort would make some effort to remedy this… alas we are running around in the usual circles of “give more supplements!” Who is profiting – or more to the point, whose profits are being protected – by the conversation veering into this nonsense land of “supplementation”?

    In any case, to any readers: please use caution in taking supplements, as it is possible to poison yourself with them. Less likely with this substance called “nutritious food”, so I would advise to take it plentifully (or provide it to vulnerable loved ones) if available, without waiting for a prescription.

    1. Edward

      You don’t even need nutritious food to gain vitamin D, just sunlight, hopefully absorbed without risking skin cancer.

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      Food can only be as nutrient-rich as the soil it was grown in or on. A lot of people are eating nutrient-free virtual vegetables grown on nutrient hyper-depleted soil. Those people will need supplements no matter how much nutrient-free virtual vegetables they eat.

  8. barefoot charley

    Like Wukchumni, I live somewhere Back of Beyond and got a retinal detachment years ago, which took time to get to the correct doc, by which time I was almost blind in one eye, so the tear had advanced. Good doc, but I saw the scar of the tear in a gash of wrinkled reality through that eye. So I pounded vitamin E, which health nuts propound for avoiding and reducing scars. On my checkup visit, doc said “You’re recovering extraordinarily well! Are you doing anything out of the ordinary?” “Nope, just taking vitamin E to redu–” “Vitamin E! That stuff can kill you!” I had a very similar conversation with another good specialist. Ecce modern medicine, ick.

    We have to take our own responsibility for our health, and cultivate judgment. No one else will, there’s no money in it. I want to emphasize, these were good, compassionate doctors. They had been vaccinated against learning anything. Expect more of same.

  9. flora

    Thanks for this post.
    Dr. Christy Risinger, MD, has a good utube video on Vit D and it’s importance in the body in multiple ways. ~10 min. (I’m taking Vit D in moderate doses as I think best for myself. Thanks, Krystyn for the heads-up.)

    The One Vitamin I Take Every Day!

    A recent Spanish study shows the importance of Vit D and Covid 19.

  10. Paul Whittaker

    I will donate $50 for the answer to this question: I am told that mRNA vaccines are in fact gene therapy and not vaccines, the most mentioned are Pfitzer and Moderna and perhaps the UK version.So are the Cuban, Russian and Chinese “Vaccines” or similar gene therapies?

    1. Porcupine

      As the names says, RNA vaccines are a type of vaccine. They are gene therapies only in the broadest possible sense that they use nucleic acids (or rather ribonucleic acids). RNA is naturally occurring in all human cells and very unstable and only lasts on the order of minutes in human cells. RNA does not modify the nucleic DNA and leaves behind no lasting DNA changes, so in that sense it is not really a proper gene therapy.

      All Covid RNA vaccines work in similar ways. Many of the other vaccines like the Oxford/AZ vaccine use DNA instead of RNA (delivered by a carrier virus), if anything this is likely to persist longer in cells. I don’t think there are any protein based vaccines available for Covid-19 (yet), so the label “gene” does not really serve as a useful distinction for different Covid vaccines.

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