Kelowna MLA, Liberal health critic made false claims about COVID-19 | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kelowna MLA, Liberal health critic made false claims about COVID-19

Kelowna-Mission MLA and Liberal Health critic Renee Merrifield
Image Credit: Facebook/Renee Merrifield Wasylyk
April 30, 2021 - 7:00 AM

The B.C. Liberal Health critic — Kelowna-Mission MLA Renee Merrifield — is under fire for making dubious claims and suggestions about COVID-19 to the media amid a global pandemic.

Merrifield was quoted in a Kelowna publication touting the benefits of vitamin D, being fit and keeping healthy to "help fight off COVID-19”.

In a recent KelownaNow article she shared to her Facebook page on Saturday, April 24, she suggested such actions actually prevent COVID.

"Preventative measures are huge,” she is quoted in the article. “I take 5,000 international units a day of vitamin D because there's a direct correlation between it boosting your immune system and fighting off COVID."

But, according to an expert in the field, that's not true at all. There is no proof that vitamin D does anything to “fight off” or prevent COVID.

“To date, there are no studies to support these claims,” UBC professor Stephen Hoption Cann wrote in an email to iNFOnews.ca. “It would be wrong for public health officials to state that these changes could prevent COVID when there is no evidence so far that this is true."

Hoption Cann is a clinical professor at UBC’s School of Population and Public Health as well as chair of the UBC Clinical Research Ethics Board. He sent the email in response to questions from iNFONews.ca and after reviewing the article.

Given that lack of scientific research, Merrifield should be very careful about how she talks about vitamin D and COVID, former NDP strategist Bill Tieleman told iNFOnews.ca.

"I think it’s actually quite dangerous on the part of an MLA to do so, particularly one who is the health critic," he said. "I would have thought Ms. Merrifield would be more careful with what she says in the media and to the public."

He noted that it's one thing to talk about the benefits of things like vitamin D but something else again when linking it to COVID.

"You take on a special role when you become an elected official, people pay more attention to you, for better or worse," Tieleman said. "In this case, I think she should be out in the media, saying if you have a misunderstanding about anything I was saying, you should follow all the rules and regulations and you should get the first vaccine that is available."

In an April 27 interview with iNFOnews.ca, Merrifield stressed that she is not making recommendations and is not saying anything can prevent COVID.

She said she did not fact check every single thing in the article but did not deny any of her statements.

“I do believe there is a direct correlation between having a healthy amount of vitamin D in your system, and warding off – fighting off – I wouldn’t even say warding off because that’s the wrong word and I’m being very careful because I feel a little bit that you’re looking for something I don’t want to give you because I’m not making recommendations. But I am saying take care of yourself, be healthy, get outside, exercise, eat well, sleep as much as you need to and make sure you’re getting what you need in order to make yourself healthy.”

In the article, Merrifield quotes the B.C. Centre of Disease Control website as saying: "Vitamin D plays a role in adaptive immunity and cellular differentiation, maturation and proliferation of various immune cells."

The web page, “Clinical Reference Group SBAR: Therapies for COVID-19” does make that statement in a section of the site titled “Ascorbic Acid and Vitamin D.”

But at the very top of that section, highlighted in a box, is this recommendation: “Ascorbic acid and Vitamin D are not recommended for treatment or prophylaxis [prevention] of COVID-19 outside of approved randomized-controlled trials.”

“What I’m saying is be healthy,” Merrifield told iNFOnews.ca. “What I’m saying is do what you need to do to stay well to give yourself and your body the best fighting chance against COVID.”

In the interview and the article, she’s trying to make the point that not enough is being done to promote good health.

“We’re not talking about these things,” Merrifield said. “We’re talking a lot about what happens when we get intubated on a ventilator inside a hospital but we’re not talking about antibody therapy and we’re not talking about being healthy in the middle of a pandemic where our mental health is taking one of its biggest hits in recorded history.”

Her comments were a bit stronger in the article.

"I've heard (provincial health officer) Dr. Bonnie (Henry) mention a couple of times that vitamin D is good and you should be getting outside and walking," said Merrifield. "But it certainly hasn't been stressed as an approach to boosting your immune system and potentially avoiding COVID."

The UBC scientist stressed that there is no proof a stronger immune system will help avoid the effects of COVID-19.

“While in general, exercise and a healthy diet can reduce one’s risk of developing a variety of diseases, there are no studies demonstrating that this can prevent COVID,” Hoption Cann wrote in his email. “If exercise was helpful in preventing COVID illness, then we would probably not see so many outbreaks in fitness centres.”

While there are a number of studies being conducted into the value of vitamin D in preventing COVID, only one has been published so far, he wrote.

“In this study, they examined whether a single dose of vitamin D could reduce hospital length of stay in patients with moderate to severe COVID illness – it did not,” he wrote.

There is nothing on the B.C. Centre for Disease Control website dealing with exercise or taking Vitamin D as a way to prevent COVID.

“There is no one with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control with that type of expertise,” a Ministry of Health communications officer told iNFOnews.ca.

Instead, its section on prevention deals with things like hand washing as safe distancing.

This is not the first time that Merrifield has backtracked from stands she has taken on COVID.

Last December, according to a CTV news report, she apologized for liking some questionable articles on Twitter, including one suggesting health authorities should let COVID spread through lower risk people, such as teenagers and children, in order to build herd immunity.

READ MORE: BC Liberals' health critic apologizes after 'liking' strange herd immunity tweets

The Kelowna Now article can be viewed in its entirety here.


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