CILIPS Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland
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Vitamin D and COVID-19

This case study is part of Health Librarians Add Value, a campaign run jointly by NHS Education for Scotland (NES) and CILIPS. It has been provided by Christine Gallagher, Librarian at Public Health Scotland. Read other case studies here

Outline of the project

As the COVID-19 pandemic continued, the possibility that Vitamin D could have an effect on disease severity, or act as a treatment, was globally gaining traction. It became very important for national organisations to develop guidance relating to this and therefore, evidence was needed. The Scottish Public Health Network (ScotPHN), part of Public Health Scotland, asked the Knowledge and Research Services team to carry out a literature search on this topic and to perform a rapid summary of this evidence.

This involved creating a search strategy and identifying databases and sources of information, including grey literature. As COVID-19 is a new disease, evidence and information have rapidly changed and the search strategy had to demonstrate this, for example, a wide range of synonyms and keywords reflecting the various names of the disease and virus. Identifying sources of information was also challenging as a range of typical health databases, specific coronavirus databases, publisher portals, pre-print collections, and general web searches had to be used to find evidence.

The completed evidence summary was sent to the ScotPHN team who then asked for updates to the search and summary two weeks later and then a further four weeks later, each summary taking around one week to complete. This reflects the sheer speed and quantity of publications during this pandemic. The second update saw a total of 75 articles and publications included in the summary and the quick turnaround highlights how well the Knowledge and Research Services team have adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic.


The literature search and evidence summary work done by the Knowledge and Research Services team has been highly valued by service users. Phil Mackie who works at Public Health Scotland as a Consultant in Public Health, Head of PHS Scottish Public Health Network Team, Head of PHS Knowledge and Research Services, and Interim Head of the PHS Drugs & MERRRs Teams said:

In the midst of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the availability of professional knowledge curation and management to guide evidence-informed, public health action has been essential. The evidence synthesis work is a great example of this. The synthesis was designed to help professionals understand a very rapidly changing evidence base relating to the continuing need to supplement vitamin D in the Scottish population, whether the current management of the pandemic could increase the risk of deficiency in some sectors of the population, and how that needs to kept independent of any clinical considerations relating to high dose vitamin D therapy in treating COVID-19 illness. Articulating this is one thing, but it took the expertise of the knowledge services team to operationalise this, secure, and then synthesise the evidence to allow me to provide appropriate professional support.

Librarian Christine Gallagher outlines how important this work has been:

The evidence surrounding this topic was very new and public health guidance relating to Vitamin D has been adapted over a short period of time. It was important for input from experienced information professionals to systematically search to find high quality and up-to-date evidence to inform public health advice.

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