Since the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, broke onto the world stage in early 2020, life for many people has been turned upside down. At the time of writing, there have been over 30 million confirmed cases and almost one million deaths attributed to COVID-19, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The global pandemic of COVID-19 (also known as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2) has swept across the globe since it first came to light at the end of 2019 when it was described as a “pneumonia of unknown origin”.
The spread of the virus has been accompanied by a lot of information. There is a large amount of scientific data and research that has shed light on the virus, its symptoms, effective treatments and potential vaccines. There has also been lots of government advice, good journalism and various well-researched articles.
Note: There are many sources of Coronavirus (COVID-19) help and information out there but be sure to double-check any claims or assertions with trusted sources such as the NHS or the World Health Organisation.
Main Claims in Relation to Veganism & Covid-19
There have also been numerous conspiracy theories and frankly wacko ideas about COVID-19; where it originated, how to treat it and the things people should do to stop themselves contracting it. Some of the weirdest suggestions have come from the President of the United States of America; which serves to show what a darn strange world we live in at the moment!
Your Questions Answered
In this article, we will be examining the various claims and suggestions made in relation to veganism and COVID-19. We’ll assess whether people should take notice of them or simply ignore them completely. We will look into each of the following questions in detail:
- Does being vegan stop you getting COVID-19? In short: no, it doesn’t. We’ll explain why that’s the case in detail. But, in essence, it is because a virus is not selective about the nose/mouth/eyes into which it is transferred.
- Do vegans get less severe COVID-19 illness? We’ll go into detail about whether people following plant-based diets are less at risk of developing severe illness from COVID-19. We’ll relate this to the various risk factors that have been linked to an increased risk of severe COVID-19 illness. These include things, such as obesity and type 2 Diabetes.
- Would future pandemics be less likely to occur if more people became vegan? We’ll look at where pandemics come from (hint: animals!). We’ll also investigate whether a reduction in animal farming and habitat destruction could reduce the risk of future pandemics.
- Why are there so many COVID-19 outbreaks in meat processing plants? We’ll assess whether there are a disproportionate number of coronavirus outbreaks in meat processing plants compared to other work places. If there are, we’ll investigate why that might be the case.
We will base any arguments and information on current evidence based on scientific research (rather than anecdotal “evidence” or hearsay). COVID-19 is still very new in terms of its virology and epidemiology. There is, therefore, still a lack of really robust evidence in relation to many aspects of the virus.
This includes things like the long term effects and whether people are able to build up effective immunity against COVID-19. New research in relation to the coronavirus is being published all the time; we will update this article if any related evidence emerges that changes the information we present. In the meantime, we will use the best publicly available evidence.
The news has been dominated by COVID-19 for most of 2020; we will assume you known the basic information about what the virus, including the possible symptoms. If not, check out the World Health Organization’s Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) information hub. If you think you or someone you live with may have symptoms, go to the NHS COVID-19 hub for information.
1. Does Being Vegan Stop You Getting COVID-19?
Let’s get straight to the point here: there is no evidence that suggests being vegan can stop you getting COVID-19. The only way to avoid contracting COVID-19 is to avoid exposure to the virus. The virus is passed mainly from person to person. There is strong evidence to suggest it can be passed by people who are not showing any symptoms.
Clearly, it passes more readily from people who have symptoms because they are more likely to be coughing or sneezing; both of which have the potential to expel literally millions of droplets containing SARS-CoV-2 into the immediate environment. If these droplets travel in your direction, there is a risk you will breathe them in. Or, they will land on your clothes or body. If you breathe in the droplets, the virus has made it into your body; in that case, there is a good chance you will be infected with coronavirus. If the droplets land on your hand and you rub your nose/eyes/mouth, the virus could gain entry that way.
There is also evidence to suggest that the virus that causes coronavirus disease can live on certain surfaces for a limited time. For instance, up to three days on plastic or stainless steel. It is therefore possible that the virus could be transmitted by touching an infected surface and then touching your mouth/nose/eyes.
Diets Don’t Stop Viruses Getting into the Body
You may breathe in infected droplets in a busy tube carriage; or you touch an infected surface and then touch your face. There is no reason that your diet you follow would influence whether the virus infects you in these scenarios. Once it is in your body, again, there is no reason why being vegan would stop the virus infiltrating your cells and turning them into virus-replicating factories.
There is equally no evidence to suggest that the cells inside the body of a vegan are different to those of a non-vegan; there is no research that suggests, for instance, that vegans have different shaped red blood cells or different numbers of angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 receptors (ACE2) in their nasal tissue that might have some impact on whether or not they contract COVID-19.
In short, whilst there are lots of factors, some known, quite probably many not, that can affect how someone might contract COVID, being vegan is not one of them.
What Can You Do to Reduce the Risk of Getting COVID-19?
There are many ways to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus, but these are not related to the diet you follow. Based on advice from the NHS, the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), examples of well-documented ways to avoid getting, or at least to reduce the risk of getting, COVID-19 include:
1. Avoiding Anyone Showing Symptoms of Coronavirus
Clearly, it makes sense to stay away from anyone who is showing overt symptoms of what could be COVID-19: if someone is coughing near you, get the hell away!
2. Avoiding People in General as Much as Possible (Staying at Least Two-Metres Away)
As mentioned, it is possible for people not showing symptoms to shed the virus and pass it on to others. As such, it is not enough simply to avoid people who are coughing and spluttering in your general direction. Basically, anyone could have the virus without even knowing it.
The whole notion of social distancing (staying a certain distance away from others) is designed to reduce the risk of you unknowingly coming into contact with infected people. This also applies to things like social gatherings; the larger the group of people, the more likely it is someone in that group will be shedding the virus.
3. Wearing a Face Mask
Wearing a mask can help prevent the spread of COVID by stopping people who have it passing it to others. This applies whether they have symptoms or not. But research suggests it can also offer some protection against breathing in particles that harbour the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
4. Wash Your Hands Regularly with Soap (Or Use Hand Gel If There Is No Soap)
As we explain in our hand sanitiser article, conventional soap, anti-bacterial soap and hand sanitiser denatures the COVID virus. This renders it ineffective and makes it unable to replicate itself.
So, washing your hands regularly limits the chances you will transfer the virus from your hands to your mouth/nose/eyes. Especially after you’ve been in an environment in which many people might have been, such as a supermarket.
5. Working from Home
Some options are simply not possible for many people, but for those who are able to work remotely from home it stands to reason that avoiding other people in the office/workplace and not having to sit on a train/bus/tube is going to mean there are less opportunities for the virus to infiltrate your body.
Aside from the abovementioned suggestions, there is very little you can do to stop you getting COVID-19 in the first place. No doubt you will have come across all sorts of claims and myths online, so it’s worth checking out the WHO COVID Mythbusters page to put a few of those to bed. This BBC Future article is also worth a read as it gives a good insight into why people believe myths and half-truths about COVID-19.
It is clear that there is no evidence available at present that gives even a hint that following a vegan diet can stop you contracting COVID-19. But is there any evidence that might suggest a link between a plant-based diet and a less severe COVID-19 illness?
2. Do Vegans Get Less Severe COVID-19 Illness?
There are lots of people who have been drawn towards veganism for health reasons, some of whom after watching one of the vegan documentaries that have become quite popular in recent years, such as The Game Changers. The crux of veganism offering a healthier diet than a standard omnivorous diet is based on vegans tending to eat more fruit and vegetables in general, consuming less in the way of cholesterol and saturated fats, and eating more seeds, nuts and legumes. But, how does this relate to experiencing a less severe COVID-19 illness?
A healthier diet that is lower in fat and cholesterol is likely to reduce a person’s risk of becoming obese. The same applies for the chance of developing health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes. Both of these are risk factors for making people more likely to develop severe COVID-19 illness and potentially even dying.
A study published in the BMJ (previously known as the British Medical Journal) of more than 20,000 patients in the UK from over 200 hospitals suggested there are various factors affecting how likely someone is to become seriously ill. The vast majority of people admitted to hospital and who suffered severe COVID-19 illness had serious underlying health conditions. The BMJ report also stated that:
Increasing age, male sex, and comorbidities including chronic cardiac disease, non-asthmatic chronic pulmonary disease, chronic kidney disease, liver disease and obesity were associated with higher mortality in hospital.
Clearly, some of these risk factors have nothing to do with a person’s diet, such as the person’s sex or age. But things like chronic cardiac disease, obesity and even type 2 diabetes (though not type 1) can be significantly affected by the food and drink someone consumes.
Veganism and COVID-19 Symptoms: Points to Note
As such, it might be the case that people following vegan diets may get less severe symptoms than other people in some circumstances. But there are some serious caveats to a suggestions like that:
- A vegan diet is not necessarily a healthy diet – Not eating animal products doesn’t make you healthy, unless you eat a well-planned and balanced vegan diet.
- Non-vegan diets can be healthy too – Equally, whilst vegans may generally eat more phytonutrients, there are lots of very healthy non-vegan diets too.
- Diet is only one factor affecting a person’s overall level of healthiness – The amount and type of exercise a person takes contributes significantly towards how healthy that person is. Indeed, the levels of stress a person experiences also plays a significant role. While diet plays a major role in someone’s health, it is not the only factor
So, really, it would be more accurate to suggest that a healthy balanced diet with regular exercise and low levels of stress might give people a better chance to avoid severe COVID-19 illness compared to others living a less healthy lifestyle.
But taking into account other lifestyle factors, it can certainly be argued that people who follow a vegan diet are less likely to suffer certain health problems than those who don’t.
Are Vegans Less Likely to Be Obese?
While it is not the case that becoming a vegan will automatically make you lose weight, it is true to say that on average vegans have a lower BMI than vegetarians, people who eat fish but not meat, and meat eaters.
This conclusion was drawn by the wide-ranging Diet and Body Mass Index study published in the International Journal of Obesity in 2003. We go into a bit more detail about the study in our article on Vegan Weight Loss, but with a large sample of 38,000 participants, this is generally considered a robust finding. In conclusion, the study authors stated
Fish-eaters, vegetarians and especially vegans had lower BMI than meat-eaters. Differences in macronutrient intakes accounted for about half the difference in mean BMI between vegans and meat-eaters.
A lower BMI translated into a less likelihood of becoming obese. It is also associated with some of the other illnesses that are recognised as risk factors for developing severe COVID-19 illness, namely type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Could Vegan Diets Help Reduce the Prevalence of Type 2 Diabetes?
In relation to type 2 diabetes specifically, it has been suggested by both The British Diabetic Association and Diabetes.co.uk that a low fat vegan diet can have real benefits including “lower levels of type 2 diabetes, less hypertension, lower cholesterol levels and reduced cancer rates”. We investigate how a vegan diet might reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes (and even how it might help reverse it in some cases) in our article on Veganism and Diabetes.
Based on the above information and various other research and guidance in the public domain, it would be fair to suggest that while veganism isn’t a solution in terms of limiting your chances of getting severe COVID-19 illness, it can certainly be a contributing factor.
In general terms, because of the low fibre nature of meat, eggs and dairy products, as well as the increased levels of saturated fat and cholesterol compared to fruit and vegetables, it is understandably more difficult to follow a diet that incorporates these things and still maintain optimal health. Such animal products are good sources of protein but it should not be forgotten that there are lots of great vegan sources of protein too.
Diet Is Only Part of the Answer
Clearly, the amount of energy a person expends during a given day also plays a massive part in someone’s bodyweight and BMI, and regular exercise is a great way to keep your BMI in check whilst also bringing additional benefits to your cardiovascular fitness, as well as potentially reducing stress levels and improving mental health. The World Health Organization gives the following recommendation about physical activity, suggesting that adults aged 18 to 64:
Should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the week, or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity throughout the week, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity. For additional health benefits, adults should increase their moderate-intensity physical activity to 300 minutes per week, or equivalent.
If you are looking for somewhere to start with exercise, there are loads of free workout vids online, including every parent’s lockdown exercise hero, Joe Wicks!
3. Would Future Pandemics Be Less Likely To Occur If More People Became Vegan?
Moving away from how following a vegan diet might help individuals, we now look at things from a more macro level: if lots more people (or indeed everyone) went vegan, would we avoid future pandemics completely?
There was something of an outcry when well-known vegan activist, Earthling Ed, released a video in March 2020 (see below) – just as the pandemic was really starting to take hold – that linked various diseases (from HIV to Ebola, swine flu to COVID-19) with the exploitation of non-human animals by humans.
He went on to suggest that because it is thought that the SARS-CoV-2 virus originated in a meat and animal market in Wuhan, the market itself – and hence the ability for the virus to have been transmitted there – “only existed because of our desire to eat animals”. So, is Earthling Ed onto something here or is he guilty – as suggested in some tabloids – of exploiting the pandemic to push his own vegan advocacy agenda?
Where Did COVID-19 Come From?
There are widely shared conspiracy theories that suggest the SARS-CoV-2 virus was made in a Wuhan lab and then escaped. However, most sound-headed scientists believe that the virus occurred naturally and was not engineered from any previous virus. Way back in March 2020, a team of scientific experts in the United States stated in a letter to Nature, “Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus.”
It is widely accepted that SARS-CoV-2 is a zoonotic disease, meaning one that has jumped from non-human animals to humans. There have been many other zoonotic diseases throughout history, including the following that have occurred in the UK.
Zoonotic Diseases Found in the UK
|Disease||Main reservoir(s)||How It Is Transmitted|
|Animal influenza||Pigs, other livestock, humans||Direct contact|
|Bovine tuberculosis||Cattle||Unpasteurised milk, contact with infected animals|
|Hepatitis E||Pigs, wild boar, deer||Consumption of undercooked meat|
|Listeriosis||Cattle, sheep, soil||Consumption of infected dairy or meat products|
|Lyme disease||Ticks, rodents, deer, sheep, small animals||Tick bite|
|Salmonellosis||Poultry, farm animals||Direct animal contact, raw meat, other raw foods|
|Streptococcal sepsis||Pigs||Direct contact, meat|
|Zoonotic diphtheria||Cattle, farm animals, dogs||Direct contact, milk|
Zoonotic Viruses Are Relatively Common
They are just a selection of the zoonotic diseases found in the UK. There are plenty of other diseases that have occurred across the globe that are classified as zoonotic; these include Ebola, Lassa fever, MERS, rabies, yellow fever and indeed, plague.
In some cases it is not easy or even possible to avoid possible infection, for instance with yellow fever which originated in monkeys but which is transmitted to humans through mosquito bites. But, for many diseases, the close proximity to (often farmed) animals is the factor that allows the disease to jump from non-human animals to humans.
SARS-CoV-2 is the seventh coronavirus that is known to have infected humans. The other six being: SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, HKU1, NL63, OC43 and 229E, in case you were wondering. That the three most severe – SARS-CoV-2, SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV – all appear to have originated in animals; possibly bats or pangolins, Asian palm civets via bats and camels, respectively. This is sure to set alarm bells ringing about the risk of diseases that transfer from non-human animals to humans.
Obviously, swine flu came from pigs and avian flu from birds, and there are numerous other examples as detailed above. There are plenty of research studies and articles that confirm this too. And there have even been examples of COVID-19 mutating in mink farms – something that clearly wouldn’t be needed if no one wanted to purchase garments from fur.
Don’t Argue with Attenborough
Is Earthling Ed onto something? Some in the mainstream media and, of course, on social media were quick to dismiss Ed’s linking of the COVID-19 pandemic and the way humans treat animals. But the same indignant masses have been slightly less keen to slam everyone’s favourite naturalist (and almost-vegan), Sir David Attenborough.
In his recent one-off programme for the BBC entitled Extinction: The Facts (which is available to UK residents to watch on iPlayer), there is a section that deals specifically with pandemics in which Sir David states:
Scientists believe that our destructive relationship with nature is actually putting us at greater risk of pandemic diseases.
One scientist interviewed was Dr Peter Daszak, the President of EcoHealth Alliance, a zoologist and an expert on disease ecology and specifically diseases that transmit from non-human animals to humans. In the programme, he states: “It’s human impact on the environment that drives emerging diseases”, and it focusses specifically on the huge markets that contain thousands of live animals (such as the one to which Earthling Ed referred in his YouTube vid) which it suggests are “incredible places for these viruses to spread”).
But it is not just animals bred to eat that is the problem, the documentary asserts. It also talks about the animals that are bred and held captive in cramped conditions for the fur trade. And, crucially, habitat destruction and the repurposing of land from natural rainforest or other biodiverse systems to monoculture agricultural land or grazing land for cattle.
Rainforest, Habitat Destruction & Diseases
According to the Rainforest Partnership, around 65 to 70 percent of all deforestation of the Amazon rainforest between 2000 and 2005 was undertaken in order to clear space for pastures for cattle. But other than the massive effect on reducing biodiversity and increasing carbon dioxide emissions, what does this have to do with zoonotic diseases which have the potential to become the next pandemic?
In the Extinction: The Facts programme, the aforementioned Dr Peter Daszak asserts that: “31% of all emerging diseases have originated through the process of land use change” and that forests around the world that possess high levels of biodiversity have “thousands of viruses that we’ve never come into contact with yet”.
As we encroach into these habitats, the argument goes, loggers, people laying roads, and eventually cattle and farmers are more likely to come into contact with this hitherto unknown virus which might have the ability to transmit from non-human animals to humans (perhaps via the cattle as a stepping stone host). Daszak goes on to suggest that our consumption of beef and poultry products drives this process and hence makes us – as a species – more susceptible to new viruses that could develop into something rather nasty in the future.
As we reference elsewhere on our site, a 2019 University of Oxford study published in the journal Science suggested that, “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use.”
So, imagine everyone turned to veganism and there was somehow a swift transition away from mass farming practices and habitat destruction to produce land for cattle grazing; we would massively reduce our risk of falling foul of new pandemics, right? Well, possibly, but not irrefutably.
The Jurassic Park Argument
As Dr Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum) says with such dramatic effect in that classic Steven Spielberg film, Jurassic Park: “Life… finds a way.” And, this can be the case with viruses as much as it can with any other living organism.
Imagine the scenario in which a bat harbouring a zoonotic disease that has the potential to cause a global pandemic decides to defecate on some food that an unknowing field scientist (ironically studying said bats in their natural habitat in the jungles of northern Thailand) then eats. The scientist consumes the virus-ridden guano, treks back to camp and shares a few drinks and cigarettes with colleagues. They head back to Chiang Mai in Land Cruisers, five people in each, then stay in a hotel, eating at the buffet in the evening and the following morning.
The scientist who consumed the virus (patient zero) starts to get a bit of a headache, but puts it down to one too many beers the night before so they head to the airport as planned, board their plane to Bangkok, then head to London, with a few hours in Dubai on the way. The other scientists in the group start to develop headaches too and after a couple of days they are all dead, heads having exploded and a killing pandemic has already taken hold. Okay, dramatic, perhaps, but – based on the way COVID-19 spread across the globe – not wholly unrealistic.
But to cut a disaster film pitch short, the point here is that viruses can emerge irrespective of whether people are consuming meat or exploiting animals. Sometimes interactions between humans and non-human animals just happen by chance, which is increasingly likely as the human population increases.
Reducing the Probability
It is fair to suggest, however, that if people stop eating meat, stopped farming animals for meat, fur and leather, and other purposes, and stopped encroaching into biodiverse habitats in general (both to clear land for grazing land but also for arable farming and logging) it is likely to reduce the probability of humans coming into contact with zoonotic virus that live in non-human animal hosts.
We’ll investigate the practicalities and other issues of what would happen if everyone in the world suddenly went vegan elsewhere on the site. But suffice to say, the more vegans there are, the less demand there will be for meat and hence the less need there would be for farms containing lots of animals in potentially cramped and unhygienic environments. There would also be less call for the kind of massive live animal market from which COVID-19 might well have taken the leap from animals to humans.
4. Why Are There So Many COVID-19 Outbreaks in Meat Processing Plants?
Not so long ago, there appeared to be a spate of COVID-19 outbreaks at meat processing plants and abattoirs in various locations around the world, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, France and the United States, including a large outbreak at the Smithfield Foods pork processing plant in South Dakota.
In the UK alone, outbreaks were recorded at a chicken processing plant in Anglesey, as well as meat processing plants in Wrexham, West Yorkshire and Cornwall. Was it just a coincidence, or is there something about meat processing plants in particular that makes them environments in which viruses can thrive and spread?
COVID-19 is transmitted through droplets of moisture that are propelled when someone coughs or sneezes. It is therefore no major surprise that meatpacking factories and similar, where production lines don’t give sufficient space for workers to keep their distance, have seen outbreaks. But there has been a disproportionate number of meat-related factories and plants that have suffered outbreaks.
It is suggested in the BBC article referenced earlier that this is partly due to the refrigerated, damp nature of these plants, which could be perfect environments in which viruses can survive and indeed thrive. And, with loud machinery, the staff would be required to shout to communicate, something else that is thought to increase the risk of transmission (due to droplets expelled from the mouth).
There is little evidence that it is the meat itself that is the problem, but it does seem strange that there haven’t been similar numbers of outbreaks in lots of other factories that don’t deal with meat. It could be more to do with the environment in which meat is processed, as mentioned, and with workers in closer quarters to one another than they are in some other factories. But there are hints that the animals themselves could certainly be reservoirs for viruses (though there is no specific evidence for that in relation to COVID-19).
Evidence of Problems with Poultry
There is evidence, however, that poultry production systems in general can prove fertile breeding grounds for pathogens, as detailed in the 2018 research article published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science that states that of the 39 novel avian flu viruses identified that have muted into a form that harm humans (known as “antigen shifts” or “conversion events”) “all but two of these events were reported in commercial poultry production systems, and a majority of these events took place in high-income countries”. This suggests that such processing systems are certainly places in which viruses could thrive and also where they could even mutate to become dangerous to humans.
There is little solid evidence to suggest that meat from factories in which there has been an outbreak could lead to coronavirus infections in people who come into contact with or eat that meat. A risk assessment carried out by the UK Food Standards Agency asked: “What is the risk of food, food contact materials, or food packaging being a source or transmission route of SARS-CoV-2 for UK consumers?” They concluded that:
The probability that UK consumers will receive potentially infectious exposures of SARS-CoV-2 via the consumption of food or the handling of food contact materials or packaging is Negligible as assessed by pathway A (food of animal origin) and Very Low (“very rare but cannot be excluded”) as assessed by pathway B (contamination of food), with an overall risk of Very Low.
It should be noted that they state the uncertainty associated with the estimate is high, however, and there are significant data gaps and limitations of the assessment.
In conclusion, clearly, if there were no meat eaters, there would be no call for meat processing plants so some people would see this as another argument to support the notion that veganism could reduce the prevalence of COVID-19 and other future pandemics. There are always going to be ways that such easily transmissible viruses will infect people, however, and if it isn’t in a meat processing plant, it would be in a train or tube carriage or somewhere else there is close contact between humans.
For us, it is too simplistic to say that mass veganism would simply stop such viruses spreading. It might have an effect, but it would be hard to quantify. When it comes to pandemics, as we have all seen throughout most of 2020, there are no silver bullets … at least not until we get a vaccine anyway.
That is not to say a big reduction in meat consumption and associated processing would not reduce the overall pandemic risk, just that it is impossible to say for sure or to quantify such a reduction in risk beyond logical estimates that would have a very wide margin of error.
Veganism & Covid-19: Conclusions
As we have seen, there is not strong evidence to suggest vegans are less likely to contract COVID-19 than people following other diets. Anyone who suggests otherwise does not understand basic virology.
When it comes to reducing the risk of suffering from severe COVID-19 illness, it is possible that a healthy and well-balanced vegan diet could prove effective to an extent, as such a diet is likely to result in a lower BMI and lower likelihood of things like type 2 diabetes and chronic cardiac disease than an average diet containing meat and dairy products.
Very Little Research
Having said that, there has been no research that we have located that specifically looks at how people’s diets affects the severity of the COVID-19 illness they suffer once they been exposed to the virus. And, it is possible that a healthy person with a well-balanced diet that includes some animal products would be able to avoid obesity, type 2 diabetes and other related illnesses, which are viewed as risk factors for severe COVID-19 illness.
While a vegan diet might be helpful in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and hence be effective to a degree at reducing the risk of severe illness in general, the nature of the coronavirus means there are plenty examples of otherwise very healthy people (whether vegan or not) who have suffered severe COVID-19 illness and/or “long COVID”.
A Healthy Lifestyle Doesn’t Eradicate Your Risk
In short, there is no evidence to suggest that simply being vegan offers any protection against developing severe COVID-19 illness. However, it is probably fair to say that it may offer some benefit as part of a generally healthy lifestyle that includes exercise and other health-promoting activities.
There is strong evidence to suggest that the way humans treat non-human animals in terms of farming and the related habitat destruction, and the examples of large animal markets, could certainly play a significant role in the likelihood of zoonotic diseases being transmitted to humans. Logic would suggest that if all this were to stop – that is, everyone went vegan – there would be no need to have such markets or to encroach into rainforests to produce land on which to graze cattle. And hence there would be a lower probability that humans would come into contact with novel viruses that have the capacity to be transmitted to humans from other animals.
Too Many Variables
As for the prevalence of COVID-19 outbreaks in meat processing plants and abattoirs though, it is impossible to quantify how much effect mass veganism would have on the potential for new pandemics occurring in the future. It stands to reason that risks would be reduced, but given the vast number of variables involved and the part simple random chance could play in any new outbreak, we are not going to suggest that veganism for all would simply render humanity safe from all future pandemics. On that front, we are beholden to Mother Nature/the Gods/Lady Luck (delete as you see fit!).