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  1. News Release

  2. Oct 14, 2021

West Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Ayne Amjad Targeted With Hard-Hitting Billboards

Doctors Say COVID-19 Vaccines Should Be Shored Up With a Plant-Based Diet

CHARLESTON, W.Va.—Two billboards, one installed today and one to be installed Oct. 18, that direct Charleston residents to, “Get The Shot, & Go Vegan” to decrease illness and death related to COVID-19 are positioned near the office of West Virginia Health Commissioner Ayne Amjad, MD, MPH. One billboard is at 740 2nd Ave South and the other at exit 53 of I-64. The billboards are sponsored by the Physicians Committee—a national nonprofit of 12,000 doctors, including 63 physicians in West Virginia.

“We are focusing our health efforts in West Virginia, because it has the dubious distinction of being dead last in the country for having adults fully vaccinated against COVID-19,” explains Physicians Committee Director of Medical Education Saray Stancic, MD. “And it is a particular concern that West Virginia has the second-highest obesity rate in the United States, second only to Mississippi and by just 0.6%. Obesity is a significant risk factor for poor outcomes and death in those with COVID-19.”

An expert on the topic of boosting health outcomes in the face of COVID-19, Dr. Stancic and two colleagues had a commentary, “Shoring Up Vaccine Efficacy,” published last week in the American Journal of Medicine. It begins, “A solid vaccination program is lifesaving, essential, and insufficient.” The authors say that in addition to vaccinations, health care workers should recommend plant-based diets to help patients improve their health and decrease vulnerability to COVID-19.

Dr. Stancic will join Huntington, W.Va. physician Dominika Lozowska, MD, in filing a complaint the week of Oct. 18 with the Charleston Bureau for Public Health. The physicians urge Dr. Amjad to implement three key strategies to improve health and decrease vulnerability to COVID-19 and other illness: 

  1. Doctors should encourage patients to improve underlying health conditions, including adopting healthful dietary habits, particularly a renewed emphasis on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes, and plant-based diets. 
  2. Medical practitioners should refer appropriate patients to registered dietitians as a matter of medical urgency. 
  3. Hospitals should provide information about good nutrition to patients, families, visitors, and staff, and should model it with the foods they serve.

A 2021 study of health care workers in six countries revealed that those following largely plant-based diets had 73% lower odds of developing moderate-to-severe COVID-19, compared with those following other diets. Another study shows that the immune response to the Pfizer vaccine is inversely associated with waist circumference. 

“This benefit may come from the fact that plant-based diets are associated with significantly lower body weight, lower risk of hypertension, lower plasma lipid levels, and lower risk of diabetes.,” Dr. Stancic says. “A healthy plant-based diet can benefit a large group of individuals who fail to respond adequately to vaccination yet do not have a classic immunosuppressive condition.”

As of Nov. 18, 2020, more than 60% of COVID-19 hospitalizations were attributable to obesity, hypertension, diabetes, or heart failure.  

“To make an immunization program work in West Virginia and elsewhere, convincing people to roll up their sleeves for initial immunization and boosters as necessary is one key step,” she adds.  “Improving West Virginians’ ability to respond to the vaccine is another. Evidence strongly suggests that urgently addressing underlying health conditions with, for starters, a healthier diet would not only reduce the likelihood of severe infection and death; over time it may also help vaccines to work better.” 

The billboards direct residents to, where they can access a free 21-day Vegan Kickstart kit. 

Media Contact

Jeanne Stuart McVey



Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in education and research.

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