California university fires medical ethics director amid lawsuit over COVID-19 vaccine mandate

Dr. Aaron Kheriaty
Dr. Aaron Kheriaty | Photo: Courtesy of Aaron Kheriaty

The University of California-Irvine has fired a professor of medical ethics who has been contending that the school's vaccine mandate is unconstitutional given the science of natural immunity. 

In a Friday essay on his Substack, Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, the now-former professor of psychiatry at UC-Irvine School of Medicine and director of the medical ethics program at UCI-Health, bid farewell to the university where he has enjoyed teaching for over a decade. 

Kheriaty filed a federal lawsuit in August against the university's vaccine mandate. The lawsuit failed at the district court level and is appealed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. He makes a constitutional claim that the vaccine mandate violates his equal protection as established by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

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Kheriaty told The Christian Post in a phone interview this week that he caught COVID-19 in July 2020 and recovered soon thereafter. He contends that the immunity he has to the virus is longer lasting and more robust than any immunity conferred by the vaccines. Because he already had the virus, he did not feel it necessary to take the vaccine. 

"And yet I'm being unjustly discriminated against because I [have] this form of immunity rather than the form of immunity that is supposedly conferred by the vaccines. With each passing week, the efficacy of these vaccines, particularly against the new variants, becomes more apparent," Kheriaty said. 

"But the university has not revised its policy or changed its approach to COVID mitigation even in the face of mounting and what is now irrefutable evidence that the vaccine efficacy against infection was short-lived, unfortunately. I wish that wasn't the case, but it's undeniable now."

The Christian Post reached out to UC-Irvine for a statement on Kheriaty's termination. The university declined in an email Monday evening, saying that the institution doesn't comment on personnel matters. 

The California psychiatrist until very recently was the director of UC-Irvine's Medical Ethics Center. He is now working with the right-of-center think tank Ethics & Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. as the Bioethics and American Democracy Program director.

He emphasized that natural immunity is more robust than vaccines because when someone is exposed to the whole virus, that person makes antibodies and forms an immune response involving both antibodies and T-cells against all the different parts expressed on the virus, the epitopes.

By contrast, the COVID-19 vaccines were designed to produce antibodies against the spike protein part of the virus. It is now known that the spike protein mutates to avoid vaccine immunity, Kheriaty said. 

"The variants that are going to be selected for are going to be the variants that have a better chance of escaping vaccine immunity," the professor said. "It's much harder to escape natural immunity by viral evolution because natural immunity has far more weapons against the virus than does the vaccine immunity." 

Immunologists understood and predicted that this virus, like other viruses, will mutate and become less deadly because if it kills off too many of its hosts, it cannot propagate, Kheriaty continued.

He noted that this is now happening with the emerging variants like omicron.

Those variants may be more transmissible but are not as severe or lethal. He believes the virus is well on its way to becoming endemic, meaning that everyone is eventually going to be exposed to it and form natural immunity in addition to whatever immunity that vaccines conferred temporarily. 

"We have to do whatever we can to protect the most vulnerable, those who are in high-risk categories. Particularly the aged have access to really excellent treatments when they are inevitably exposed. But for the rest of us, it's time to get back to normal life. It's time to recognize that this virus is not going away but moving into a phase where we can all manage to live with it and manage it when people get sick." 

"We have to stop discriminating against people on these arbitrary bases and forcing a minimally effective therapeutic like the mRNA vaccines on people that are not high risk from COVID or have natural immunity or have other concerns about these vaccines," he continued.

Kheriaty felt he had to take legal action in light of his profession as a medical ethicist. 

"If I don't practice what I preach, I have no credibility to speak on these things," he told CP. "That's what it came down to for me. Do I really believe what I say when I get up in the lecture hall to the medical students when I talk about moral integrity, doing the difficult thing, following your conscience when it is unpopular?"

When asked why there has been such widespread inattention to the science of natural immunity, Kheriaty suggests three possible answers.

The first is that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has posited that any step before vaccination, such as testing people for antibodies or T-cells or asking people for prior tests, could slow down the efficiency of the "needle in every arm" rollout, he said.

Public health authorities wanted simple messaging — an all-or-nothing policy that was not tailored or individualized to people's specific circumstances, Kheriaty added. Thus, any step in the process that would have slowed down that efficiency process was seen as unnecessarily cumbersome. 

A second possible reason, Kheriaty opined, is that the CDC was worried that people would deliberately get infected with COVID-19 rather than get the vaccine. 

"We need to give people accurate information, in that sometimes people act in ways that are contrary to what we might advise, but that is no reason to mislead or lie to them about what science shows," he said. "The issue around natural immunity is not whether people will go and get infected with the virus deliberately, but what about the people who have already been infected with the virus. That's the relevant group that we're talking about here."

Kheriaty's third theory, which he believes is most operative, is that acknowledging the science of natural immunity would be an admission of policy failure. 

"These are people who will never, ever admit that they were wrong, no matter how much evidence there is to support that conclusion. The two most basic statistics in epidemiology that every student learns in every new disease that students learn about is incidence and prevalence," he explained. "Incidence is the number of new cases that happen over a time period, how many people are getting infected with COVID every month. Prevalence is the total number of cases, not just new cases, over a given time period."

"It's amazing that two years into this pandemic that we don't know with any degree of certainty how many people have had COVID," he continued. "It's possible to discover that through population-based randomly sampled T-cell testing or through what the CDC should have been doing — sequential population-based randomly tested antibodies. But they never did that, and they are not doing it. Once you acknowledge natural immunity, the natural next question is, 'How many people have it?' And the CDC would be forced to answer that question."  

The California doctor estimates that the percentage of Americans who have gotten the virus is approximately 60% of the population, perhaps higher with the new wave.

"The CDC would see that as an admission that all of these COVID measures that we took from the lockdown to masks to social distancing and so forth, which did enormous harms, didn't stop this virus or the spread," he said. "Still, a majority of Americans have been infected with COVID, and most of them, almost all healthy Americans under the age of 50, have had no problem with the virus." 

Recognizing natural immunity, he contends, is "disincentivized by all the various people who will make a lot of money off the vaccines."

"We know that there are hundreds of billions of dollars are at stake in terms of the vaccine rollout, and if suddenly half of your market or more than half of your market no longer needs the vaccine, that's taking $100 billion profits and cutting them in half," he detailed. "That's a lot of money, and that kind of money buys a lot of influence." 

Earlier this year, Kheriaty and his lawyer sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the CDC inquiring about the number of people infected with COVID-19 more than once who subsequently transmitted the virus. Though the number of reinfection cases is small, the CDC admitted that there had been zero cases of reinfection and transmission of the virus to another person. Meanwhile, what is known as "breakthrough" infection — those cases which break through the vaccine protection — can subsequently transmit the disease. 

Those who have survived COVID-19 and have natural immunity are the safest people to be around, Kheriaty maintains. 

"The [COVID] vaccines do not produce what is called sterilizing immunity, which means not only do I not get reinfected, but I don't transmit," he said.

He criticized the rhetoric encouraging people to get vaccinated for the "sake of other people."

"The COVID vaccines don't prevent transmission," he said. "I think that social solidarity type of argument would have more force for a sterilizing vaccine [like] the measles one. But it doesn't work when you're talking about the COVID vaccines, at least the ones we have right now." 

He predicted that "maybe in five years we'll have a sterilizing vaccine for COVID."

"But that's not where we are with the current vaccines, and that is becoming clearer every day," he said. 

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