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UC Irvine Fires Doc for Not Complying With COVID Vax Mandate

The University of California Irvine (UCI) fired Aaron Kheriaty, MD, for his refusal to comply with the UC system’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Kheriaty, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at UCI’s medical school, filed a lawsuit against the university and the UC Board of Regents in August 2021, claiming that their vaccine requirement was a violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

Central to Kheriaty’s argument was the controversial assertion that his natural immunity from contracting and recovering from COVID-19 in July 2020 would provide better protection against future infection than any available vaccine.

The case was later dismissed by Judge James Selna of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

“The University could legitimately have determined that granting a permanent exemption to individuals like Kheriaty would not be feasible because it would not be able to accurately determine who among the nearly half a million members of the campus community had infection-induced immunity and should be exempted from the vaccination requirement,” Selna wrote in court documents.

Kheriaty learned of his termination via email in mid-December, according to a blog post he published on his substack. He told MedPage Today that UCI maintains that he was fired solely because of his vaccination status, and not because of the preceding lawsuit.

“Everyone at the University seemed to be a fan of my work until suddenly they were not,” Kheriaty wrote in his termination announcement. “Once I challenged one of their policies I immediately became a ‘threat to the health and safety of the community.’ No amount of empirical evidence about natural immunity or vaccine safety and efficacy mattered at all.”

The data on natural immunity have shown that prior infection indeed provides a level of protection to those who have recovered. But upon reviewing a number of studies, the CDC confirmed that “vaccinating previously infected individuals significantly enhances their immune response and effectively reduces the risk of subsequent infection.”

And the road to proving one’s natural immunity can be tricky and expensive.

The CDC has also said that antibody tests are “not currently recommended to assess the need for vaccination in an unvaccinated person or to assess immunity to SARS-CoV-2 following COVID-19 vaccination.” Besides antibody testing, experts have found the study of T-cell data — done with a blood sample — to be the best method to interpret immunity, yet this process is much more difficult and labor-intensive than analyzing antibodies.

Citing privacy reasons, Kheriaty would not disclose to MedPage Today whether or not he himself had taken a T-cell test to measure his own immunity at any point since contracting COVID-19 nearly a year and a half ago.

“Natural immunity is our only way out of this pandemic,” Kheriaty said. “It’s become obvious that the vaccines aren’t protecting against infection with Omicron … I think people don’t have to continue living in a state of trepidation or anxiety about this virus.”

In response to the judge’s opinion on his case, Kheriaty filed an appeal to the Ninth Circuit on January 3.

“We’re hoping that the court agrees to apply an intermediate or strict scrutiny analysis so that we can actually get into the empirical evidence on natural immunity, which the district court, more or less, sort of set aside,” he said.

  • Kara Grant joined the Enterprise & Investigative Reporting team at MedPage Today in February 2021. She covers psychiatry, mental health, and medical education. Follow

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