Science, Ineptitude or Commercial Interest: How are Key Healthcare Decisions Made?


The good news is that the government has just announced free Vitamin D pills for 2.5 million vulnerable people in England. People who are able to buy a Vitamin D supplement and start taking them now, ahead of a free delivery, are advised to do so. I for one am delighted because research going back to the 1920’s has been shining a light on the merits of Vitamin D. That’s nearly a century ago.

The bad news is that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, has for quite some time now been arguing that there is no value in considering Vitamin D supplements. This in spite of research from around the world showing a link between coronavirus and Vitamin D deficiency in patients.

It gets a bit messier, as just a few weeks ago the health secretary told the House of Commons that a “trial” investigating Vitamin D had taken place, and that it did not “appear to have any impact” on the effects of Covid-19. Just when you thought things could not get any worse…. wait for it…. officials have now admitted that NO clinical trials on the vitamin have been carried out at all.

Not sure about you, but I feel numb.

On the face of it the honourable gentleman is either;

  • Totally incompetent – in which case why is he in the position of deciding on matters of   life and death? or
  • Has been very economic with the truth or
  • Possibly has conflicting commercial interest

It is well within your democratic right to ask which is it?

I however refuse to accept the allegation of incompetence levied at Mr Hancock or many of his other Oxonian colleagues. As an extremely lucky guy who won a Scholarship to Oxford I have the greatest respect for the University and during the many years I spent there not once did I come across anyone or anything less than awe inspiring, thought provoking and amazing.

There is another insight I can share with you to help you find an answer to the above question and that is a 2010 editorial in The British Medical Journal – entitled, “Conflicts of interest and pandemic flu”. Here is an excerpt from the editorial:


WHO must act now to restore its credibility, and Europe should legislate

The world should of course be thankful that the 2009 influenza A/H1N1 pandemic proved such a damp squib. With so many fewer lives lost than had been predicted, it almost seems ungrateful to carp about the cost. But carp we must because the cost has been huge. Some countries—notably Poland—declined to join the panic buying of vaccines and antivirals triggered when the World Health Organization declared the pandemic a year ago this week. However, countries like France and the United Kingdom who have stockpiled drugs and vaccines are now busy unpicking vaccine contracts, selling unused vaccine to other countries, and sitting on huge piles of unused oseltamivir. Meanwhile drug companies have banked vast profits—$7bn (£4.8bn; €5.7bn) to $10bn from vaccines alone according to investment bank JP Morgan. Given the scale of public cost and private profit, it would seem important to know that WHO’s key decisions were free from commercial influence.

An investigation by the BMJ and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, published this week (doi:10.1136/bmj.c2912), finds that this was far from the case. As reported by Deborah Cohen and Philip Carter, some of the experts advising WHO on the pandemic had declarable financial ties with drug companies that were producing antivirals and influenza vaccines. As an example, WHO’s guidance on the use of antivirals in a pandemic was authored by an influenza expert who at the same time was receiving payments from Roche, the manufacturer of oseltamivir (Tamiflu), for consultancy work and lecturing.

Commercially speaking there is not a single large corporation that would benefit from the sale of Vitamin D. No one therefore cares enough to bring about the lobbying, PR and deal making of the nature you are likely to see employed to promote a killer drug like Oxycontin to promote the benefits of Vitamin D.

Irrespective of what you decide the answer to the question regarding Mr Hancock is – the big ask of any guardian angel of health is for it to promote what makes the sick healthy and what prevents the healthy from becoming sick on the basis of unadulterated science rather than formidable lobbying.

I for one am clear as to which approach will ensure the longevity of our wonderful democracy.

Dr Sepe Sehati, November 2020

Note: Neither ClickTell or I have any shares or commercial interest in any Vitamin D related companies. Especially in winter months you and your wonderful family are likely to benefit from taking 10 microgram/day of Vitamin D supplement or cod liver oil. As always check with your GP first.

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