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UC Irvine gives professor pink slip over vaccine mandate

The medical ethics director claimed natural immunity to COVID-19 should exempt him from the requirement

A vaccination site at the University of California, Irvine Facebook/UC Irvine

UC Irvine gives professor pink slip over vaccine mandate

Just over a week before Christmas, Aaron Kheriaty, a doctor and professor at the University of California, Irvine, received an unwelcome gift: a notice of termination from the university where he had served for 15 years.

Kheriaty, who was also director of the medical ethics program at UCI Health, had argued that his natural immunity as a result of contracting the COVID-19 virus in 2020 was more robust than that conferred by vaccines. He declined to get the jab. In November, university administrators placed the once-popular professor on unpaid and indefinite leave after he challenged the university’s vaccine mandate. Last month, his stand cost him his job.

“Two years ago I never could have imagined that the University would dismiss me and other doctors, nurses, faculty, staff, and students for this arbitrary and capricious reason,” Kheriaty wrote on his blog.

In a federal lawsuit filed in August 2021, he challenged the constitutionality of the university’s vaccine mandate on equal protection grounds, claiming the natural immunity of individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 is equal to vaccine-conferred immunity. Less than two months later, a U.S. District Court judge disagreed, concluding the university had a rational basis for treating individuals with infection-induced immunity the same as those not yet obtaining such natural immunity, requiring both to take the vaccines. Kheriaty has appealed.

Whether natural immunity is as effective as vaccine-conferred immunity—or more effective, as Kheriaty contends—is unclear.

In a recent three-part series in The New Atlantis, editors Ari Schulman and Brendan Foht surveyed the research on natural immunity. “The fact is, right now we don’t have clear evidence that natural immunity is much worse than vaccination, and so it doesn’t make sense to treat the naturally immune differently than the vaccinated,” the journal editors concluded. “What we can be sure about is that fairness demands that we treat like cases alike, and knowing what we know now, that’s what we should do when it comes to natural immunity and vaccination.”

That’s the conclusion Virginia’s George Mason University reached, ultimately granting a medical exemption to its vaccine mandate in August 2021 for law professor Todd Zywicki. (The exemption came two weeks after Zywicki sued the school over the mandate.)

Kheriaty has moved on to work with the Ethics & Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C. For him, it may be too late for the University of California, Irvine, to change course, yet his case may be a bellwether for others pleading natural immunity and asking for a more nuanced approach under the COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

“I think that the conviction that I need to follow my conscience, and not ignore it, that comes from my Catholic faith,” Kheriaty told the Catholic News Agency last October. “I have a responsibility as an ethicist to try to uphold the basic principles of medical ethics that I profess and that I teach.”

Steve West

Steve is a legal correspondent for WORLD. He is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, Wake Forest University School of Law, and N.C. State University. He worked for 34 years as a federal prosecutor and is now an attorney in private practice. Steve resides with his wife in Raleigh, N.C.



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The reason it's "unclear" whether natural immunity is superior is that the "scientists" have refused to study it. All the focus is on the vaccine. Why? Why would anyone mandate a vaccine until it IS COMPLETELY CLEAR that natural immunity doesn't work? We should start with "first do no harm" by investigating whether people with natural immunity have any need for a vaccine. We should find out exactly how useful natural immunity is, and compare costs and benefits with vaccine immunity (which seems to be rather pathetic.) We should find out who has natural immunity BEFORE demanding universal vaccination. We should not listen to any scientists who ignore such items of common sense.


How ironic that the school fires their medical ethics professor who questioned the medical ethics of the school's vaccine policy.

Grant Brown

A reply to RCRE8109: "Anyone who refuses to get vaccinated" is NOT "just afraid of the vaccines." The apostle Paul would argue with you on that point directly. "Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." (Romans 14:23). There are those in the body of Christ that cannot receive these vaccinations to the glory of God - for you to comment as you have commented is to encourage believers to do something in their hearts not to the glory of God. That is sin. Please don't encourage believers to sin. Please don't belittle those for whom Christ has died over a matter like vaccines, in which Christ has granted liberty. Our Lord, who reigns over all, has granted you liberty to get the vaccine to His glory, and for those who cannot do so, the Lord has granted liberty (indeed commanded) that they refrain. To comment in such ways that you belittle your fellow brothers and sisters is disheartening my friend. They do so not because they fear the vaccines, but because they fear God.


“Two years ago I never could have imagined that the University would dismiss me and other doctors, nurses, faculty, staff, and students for this arbitrary and capricious reason,” Kheriaty wrote on his blog.

No one could have imaged Covid-19 two years ago. The reasons are obviously not arbitrary or capricious, especially since a court-of-law agreed with the university!
Science has not proven that natural immunity is better than the vaccines. This has nothing to do with ethical beliefs. Anyone who refuses to get vaccinated (without sound medical health reasons) is just afraid of the vaccines. Also, over 200 million Americans disagree with ex-professor’s thinking.


The intentional dismissal of natural immunity by so many in the governmental, educational, medical, and media realms betray their true allegiance to irrationality, predatory promotion of fear, and totalitarianism. This pandemic very quickly morphed into a pandemic of promoting fear and a push for more governmental control. It is rooted in godlessness.