A group of vegetarian activists argue that the COVID-19 Omicron variant is good reason for people to adopt a plant-based diet.

Papers by members of the Physicians Committee have correlated giving up meat to reduced risk of severe COVID-19 and mortality. The authors of the new editorial in European Journal of Clinical Nutrition cite data touting the benefits of a plant-based diet for COVID-19, like one observational paper which claimed that a healthy plant-based diet was associated with a 9% lower risk of COVID-19 infection and a 41% lower risk of severe COVID-19. Another exploratory paper claimed that health care workers following a plant-based diet who were exposed to COVID-19 patients had a 73% lower risk of moderate-to-severe COVID-19.

Confounders are numerous but they authoritatively note that Okinawa, Japan is a “Blue Zone” where people live longer and healthier lives because, the authors say, they are eat more sweet potatoes, soy, and green leafy vegetables. Okinawa has a lower COVID-19 mortality rate than Tokyo and they link that to less meat but there is no control because Okinawans are also more likely to be poorer than residents of Tokyo and so can't afford meat - the poverty rate is double that of the mainland. Because Okinawa is more poor, 30 percent live in poverty, COVID-19 mortality may be under-counted.  

The authors also used statistical correlation to claim that a plant-based diet helped hospital workers in Washington, D.C., improve their health and quality of life during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. In an op-ed published in the American Journal of Medicine, Dr. Barnard wrote that vaccines should be paired with plant-based diets to fight COVID-19. Obviously vaccines alone do just fine too, but they hope to discourage meat use by claiming their dietary choices are an adjuvant for medicine. Many lifestyle choices are, like exercise and not smoking and a balanced diet that includes meat.

Despite the confounders, Hana Kahleova, MD, PhD, director of clinical research at the Physicians Committee, and Neal Barnard, MD, president of the Physicians Committee, write, “This is a booster that is needed at this unprecedented time and that may actually work to mitigate COVID-19.”