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Yolk Defense Against COVID? Chicken Egg Shortage Fuels Conspiracy Theories

As Americans continue to suffer from the reduced supply of chicken eggs, and the resulting spike in their price, many have subsequently turned to the world of conspiracy theories in search for simple answers to a complicated issue.

The ongoing shortage—that in recent months has driven up egg prices across the U.S.—has seen the basic foodstuff price reach a record high in December, when the average cost for a dozen eggs in U.S. cities hit $4.25, up $1.78 from a year earlier.

As market and industry experts explain, this rise is largely driven by a combination of factors, including a major bird flu outbreak that has killed millions of birds across the U.S. and wider inflationary pressures in the economy.

But as the shortage (and its coverage in the media) intensifies, so does the circulation of misleading, baseless and outright false claims about the reasons behind it, Newsweek Misinformation Watch found.

Eggs and Covid Composite
In this combination image, a man wearing a protective face mask walks past an illustration of a virus, and inset a file photo of freshly-laid eggs collected for delivery. Conspiracy theories spread online in January 2023 arguing that egg shortages are linked to secret efforts to prolong the pandemic.

Prolonging the COVID Pandemic

The latest among them stems from a number of existing conspiracy narratives that took root on social media through the course of the pandemic, and variously describe clandestine efforts by a cabal of global elites to either artificially prolong the outbreak, or to use it for nefarious purposes.

Specifically, a number of prominent social media accounts have suggested, explicitly or implicitly, that eggs are disappearing off the shelves because they could provide natural protection from coronavirus, a solution that is seemingly blocked by the government and Big Pharma.

Many of these comments include a link to the same scientific study, titled “Chicken Egg Yolk Antibodies (IgYs) block the binding of multiple SARS-CoV-2 spike protein variants to human ACE2,” or a screenshot of the paper’s abstract.

“I am sure this has nothing to do with why we are having mass egg shortages or why entire chicken factories are burning down. Nope not one bit,” influencer Brittney Kara posted on her Instagram page.

“These global degenerates are always up to no good. NOTHING is by happenstance!” another Instagram user wrote. Both posts referenced the study cited above.

“The whole egg shortage is making a lot more sense now,” another post with the study link stated, shared on a conspiracy subReddit.

“So EGGS prevent COVID. Do you see it yet?” said a tweet viewed nearly 90,000 times.

While many of these claims contain a nugget of truth, and the study they cite is indeed real, they grossly misrepresent and miscontextualize its contents and conclusions, drawing extremely tenuous connections to the current egg deficit.

Though many posts sensationalize the study by presenting it as a recent development or even breaking news, a closer look at the screenshot in fact shows the study is dated January 2021, and it was in fact first published on November 3, 2020: before any COVID vaccine has been approved.

The claims also appear to conflate two rather distinct products: the average grocery store eggs bought daily by millions of consumers, and immunoglobulin Y—a specific type of protein extracted from a certain type of egg yolk, where it acts as an antibody against pathogens.

Lacking Context and Details

There are other details about the study, mostly lost on the social media commentators, which pour cold water on the idea that sourcing COVID antigens would be as simple as cracking an egg.

As the study’s authors note, the effects on the live virus were limited to a test tube: “anti-Spike-S1 IgYs showed significant neutralizing potency against SARS-CoV-2 pseudovirus, various S mutants, and even SARS-CoV in vitro … the safety and efficacy of the IgYs still needs further interrogation in animal models.”

They also point out that they “purified anti-spike-S1 IgYs from hens that were immunized with the S1 domain of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein,” highlighting that these weren’t just regular off-the-shelf eggs, but in fact ones that came from vaccinated chickens.

The authors suggest that, in absence (at the time) of approved COVID vaccines, these findings were encouraging and could help to develop an “aerosol or spray formulations on the respiratory tract, the oral cavity, and even the digestive tract may be a worthwhile strategy.”

Crucially, they conclude that “long-term control of the SARS-CoV-2, however, will require a combination of active and passive immunization tools, drug therapy, and other preventive measures.”

Developing Related Treatments

Other studies have since been published supporting the findings, including a November 2022 paper by Meliana Eka Saputri and colleagues, which raised prospects that these egg-derived antibodies could be used in development of further COVID-19 treatments and vaccines.

A group of Stanford students even proposed a hypothetical way to produce low-cost antiviral nasal drops from egg-derived proteins, using mostly household goods, that would help to reduce chances of infection in the future.

“An industrial or academic laboratory could produce a COVID-19 antigen or an antigen from another virus and send it to chicken farmers to inject into their hens. The farmers then could distribute the antibody-egg-laying hens or their eggs,” the researchers proposed.

However, these studies focusing on a single isolated protein from a certain type of eggs (sourced from immunized hens) are a far cry from suggestions that regular supermarket eggs carry a cure for COVID; could rival or replace existing vaccines; or are being somehow removed from the shops by secret operatives.

Eggs and Blood Clots Linked?

Yet, with the shortages already stretching into weeks, the conspiracy theories continue to proliferate, including claims linking eggs to blood clots.

“Scientists warn eggs are causing thousands of people to ‘suddenly’ form blood clots,” a News Punch article headline stated on January 24, 2023.

Some social media users shared screengrabs of the headline with ironic captions, implying that the conspiracy was in fact to blame eggs for what they perceive as a major spike in “vaccine-related” heart problems.

Egg Price Rises
Egg Price Rises by 60 Percent in One Year

This chart, provided by Statista, shows the change in prices of selected food items in the U.S. between December 2021 and December 2022.

“It’s Most Certainly not being caused by most safe, most effective, longest lasting, most studied and best performing vaccine mankind has ever produced,” one user wrote in a screengrabbed and widely shared post.

However, as multiple fact checkers including Reuters and the Associated Press showed, this narrative is false and misleading in several ways, not least because the original study found no evidence linking egg consumption to a higher risk of blood clots.

The “distraction” argument also falls apart when countered with the simple fact that the article was published in 2017, years before COVID emerged and the development of the vaccines.

Tucker Carlson’s Chicken Thoughts

Yet another conspiracy theory about the egg crisis was voiced earlier this week by Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

As Newsweek reported on Tuesday, this narrative posits that the nationwide shortage is a result of collusion between the media and the Biden administration trying to cover up that “chickens aren’t laying eggs,” and implying that chicken feed is to blame.

Carlson didn’t provide any evidence supporting this allegation, which goes against the consensus explanations for the crisis—that is, the deadly avian flu outbreak, legacy supply chain issues (some exacerbated by one-off incidents, such as the recent fire in Bozrah, Connecticut, that killed around 100,000 chickens), and rising global inflation.

Newsweek has reached out to one of the authors of the November 3, 2020, paper for comment.

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