Catholic doctor takes up cause for natural immunity against vaccine mandates

Dr. Aaron Kheriaty says his faith prepares him in case he’s fired for making sure constitutional rights are respected.

Dr. Aaron Kheriaty penned a June 14, 2021 Wall Street Journal op-ed arguing that COVID-19 vaccine mandates violate medical ethics. Shortly after, he decided he would not submit to taking the shot, even if it meant losing his job and going to court. (Photos: Screen captures / YouTube)

Doctor Aaron Kheriaty will soon be suspended without pay from his post as a professor of psychiatry in the University of California-Irvine’s School of Medicine. He has been threatened with being fired for his refusal to obey a COVID-19 shot mandate, a demand that led him to file a federal lawsuit against his employer. Yet he is at peace, he says, thanks to his Catholic faith.

“Without prayer and the sacraments and my faith that God is a loving and providential Father, I’m quite confident that I wouldn’t be able to persevere under these circumstances,” Kheriaty said in a wide-ranging interview with Catholic World Report. “If I seek to do His will and if I try to prayerfully discern whether this is the right thing to do under the circumstances, that He will protect me and He will take care of me and my family.”

Kheriaty, who also serves as director of the medical ethics program at UCI Health in Orange County, was initially put on “investigatory leave” after refusing to comply with the vaccine mandate. Within a week, the university warned, that will become an unpaid suspension. This all flowed from his Aug. 18 federal lawsuit, which alleges the University of California vaccine mandate violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In July 2020, Kheriaty contracted COVID-19. As a survivor, he has natural immunity that he argues is likely superior to protection offered by any vaccine.

The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California denied Kheriaty’s motion for a preliminary injunction to hold the vaccine mandate in abeyance as his case proceeds. A federal judge in Michigan ruled against a preliminary injunction in a similar case, ruling that no fundamental rights were at stake in Michigan State University’s vaccine mandate. Despite the initial setback, Kheriaty said he is totally confident, both in his assertion about the advantages of natural immunity, and that a coercive mandate violates his constitutional rights. 

Author (with Fr. John Cihak) of The Catholic Guide to Depression, Kheriaty was active over the past 18 months as a consultant on the mental-health effects of COVID-19 and its associated lockdowns and other restrictions. Although the University of California has threatened to end Kheriaty’s distinguished career in the medical school’s Department of Psychiatry & Human Behavior, he said his faith will see him through the fight. 

“It has been a source of strength. As Catholics, we believe that all of our fortitude is on loan, so I don’t think I would be able to persevere under the circumstances, with the threat of losing my job, being the sole breadwinner for my family, my wife and five children,” Kheriaty said, “if not for my faith in God’s Providence, that if He closes this door to me professionally and I have to walk away from a job that I love, a place where I’ve spent my entire professional career as an academic physician, I have to trust that God will open other doors for me.”

In an interview with Catholic World Report, Kheriaty discussed his case, the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccine mandates and the ethical issues brought to the fore by the governmental and societal push for everyone to take the mRNA shots.

CWR: At what point did you decide to file suit and challenge the University of California’s vaccine mandate?

Aaron Kheriaty: It was kind of this growing realization in my mind throughout 2021; January during the rollout, February I was concerned with the truncated clinical trials, but then the early data looked pretty good. So I thought, this is probably good for the elderly. My initial thought was let’s offer it to people that are at risk, offer it to people that want it, willing to take the risk of unknown long-term issues.

We’ve seen the ramping up of propaganda. There’s a difference between public health messaging that takes complex science and simplifies it for mass consumption—how do we give people accurate information in a way that they can understand, which is what we should be doing. You start with a behavior outcome that you want—a needle in every arm—and the messaging is geared toward getting that outcome at all cost. Very quickly you find yourself engaged in propaganda because it’s not about conveying accurate information, it’s about only conveying information that will give you a particular behavioral outcome.

When the idea of these mandates started coming out, when the university embraced the mandate, I co-authored a piece with Jerry Bradley in The Wall Street Journal [“University Vaccine Mandates Violate Medical Ethics”, June 14, 2021] saying that this is unethical. I probably made the decision in my own mind at that point that I’m not going to be forced to take the vaccine. I’m going to do whatever it takes to make a case for why these mandates are not justifiable.

I think on empirical grounds our central argument, our central claims are absolutely rock solid. I think a fair and impartial judgment should uphold my constitutional right in the way I’ve laid out.

CWR: Your colleagues at the University of California assembled extensive evidence promoting the advantages of the natural immunity to viruses that comes with surviving illnesses such as COVID-19. What is the primary argument for natural immunity?

Aaron Kheriaty: If you look objectively at the scientific data—and we argue at this point that the data is overwhelming for natural immunity; it’s every bit as robust as the data for vaccine immunity. Natural immunity confers between 95 and 99 percent immunity against reinfection. Most studies put the number at north of 99 percent. Reinfections are exceedingly rare, they’re almost always asymptomatic. There’s not a single reported case of someone getting reinfected and transmitting the virus to others, which is astonishing. We actually put that in our filing, in our legal documents.

It’s very risky to say ‘always’ or ‘never,’ because all they have to do is find one counter-example. Their experts could not find one documented case of someone transmitting the virus. We now have countless cases of so-called breakthrough infections and transmission from people who have been vaccinated. That’s now ubiquitous. The vaccines initially conferred a better immunity against infection. That immunity is declining with time and with new variants.

My immunity, as someone who has recovered from COVID, is between 95 and 99 percent effective. It is sterilizing, meaning there are no cases of transmission. And yet the person who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is considered ‘fully vaccinated’ under the university’s policy. They’re allowed back on campus, where my different form of immunity, which is as good—in fact it’s better—but I’m not allowed back on campus. That’s where the discrimination and equal protection come in.

Ethics issues, shot exemptions

CWR: What’s the primary ethics issue with the vaccine mandates?

AK: Because these vaccines don’t offer sterilizing immunity, the public health argument is significantly weakened. ‘Do it for the sake of others’ doesn’t work in the case of these vaccines. Then we have to fall back on the doctrine of informed consent for individual medical decisions. That means people need accurate information, which I worry that they’re not getting right now. They need the opportunity to freely accept or decline the medical intervention, which they’re not being given if they are subjected to a mandate that threatens them with the loss of their job, loss of ability to go back to school.

CWR: There has been an explosion of litigation over religious exemptions to vaccine mandates. What are your thoughts on the role these exemptions play?

Aaron Kheriaty: Of course religious exemptions have to be accepted. That’s a constitutional right, it’s a basic human right. Someone with pro-life convictions could come to the determination that under the circumstances, they can’t in good conscience take this vaccine because of its connection to aborted fetal tissue. That’s a perfectly morally acceptable decision on the Catholic understanding. There may be certain circumstances that these vaccines may be permitted as well, (as) that is what the bishops are teaching.

There also needs to be conscience exemptions for non-religious individuals. I’ve had students at the University of California reach out to me and say, ‘I have moral, ethical or conscience reasons to decline this vaccine, but I’m not a religious person.’ To their credit, they didn’t want to pretend to be a religious person to get a religious exemption. They were sort of left out in the cold without an option.

CWR: In the Michigan State University case, the U.S. district judge relied heavily on a 1905 Supreme Court precedent, Jacobson v. Massachusetts, which dealt with a smallpox vaccine mandate. You have written that Jacobson should not be applied so broadly. What do you mean?

Aaron Kheriaty: Jacobson has been used to justify many different actions during the pandemic, not just vaccines, but many different heavy-handed measures, lockdowns and other things. The court really has never defined, but needs to define, what are the limits to the Jacobson holding and how is it framed or hemmed in?

It has been misapplied and continues to be applied very, very broadly. What is a balancing test, or what are the limiting kind of parameters for that ruling? I think it’s absolutely necessary now and it’s past time for the court to limit in a reasonable way, a constitutional way, the Jacobson precedent so it doesn’t continue to be misapplied. It basically gives enormous powers to unelected health officials in any situation that they deem or define as an emergency.

CWR: There are indications that the COVID vaccines have much lower ability to prevent infection than was reported during initial testing by the manufacturers. What do you make of that?

Aaron Kheriaty: Efficacy has declined, in the case of the Pfizer vaccine, below 50 percent against infection, which is below the threshold that’s required for FDA authorization. It may have been above that threshold when the FDA authorized it, but unfortunately the efficacy has continued to decline since then. The efficacy of the mRNA vaccines appears to be pretty short-lived—it starts to decline at four months.

For some of them, it’s now below 50 percent efficacy, which is a very, very leaky vaccine, which is why people are already talking about needing boosters only six to eight months after the second dose. That doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in these vaccines.

Vaccine safety issues

CWR: Vaccine safety is not part of your legal claim, but there are increasing reports of sudden deaths and a wide array of injuries—from miscarriages to conditions such as myocarditis—associated with the vaccines. As a physician, what are your safety concerns?

Aaron Kheriaty: The initial trials were very short, especially for a vaccine. They were only three months long, then they were halted. The placebo comparison bar was eliminated by offering all of those people the vaccine after three months. And the rigorous level of safety and efficacy monitoring that you get during a clinical trial stops once they halt the clinical trial. So we’re left with a passive surveillance system that doesn’t actively monitor a cohort over time. It just relies on self-reporting by physicians and health care professionals who notice problems and who connect the dots that the problems may be related to the vaccine. That system is sending up lots of warning flags that the safety issues are serious. The CDC has not followed up on most of those reports.

The risk is infinitesimally small for children, 99.9996 percent survival rate for children with COVID. That’s as close to perfect as you get in medicine. That’s as close to 100 percent as you get. It’s in the range of the chances of getting struck by lightning. Children are at far higher risk of drowning. We haven’t drained all of the swimming pools. They are at far higher risk of dying in a motor vehicle accident on the way to school, yet we haven’t set the speed limit to 15 miles an hour on all the streets and freeways here in California. We don’t behave this way when it comes to other areas of life, other risks. And yet now we’re talking about vaccinating children against a disease that doesn’t harm them, using a vaccine that has known risks and probably some unknown risks that haven’t been adequately studied and characterized yet.

CWR: An attorney in one of the New York vaccine mandate cases said what’s going on in society is creating a ‘caste of untouchables’ like you have in India, and the unvaccinated are the lowest caste. Do you think that’s a fair assessment?

Aaron Kheriaty: It seems pretty obviously true. If you look at New York City for example, the things that you are and are not allowed to do without a vaccine passport. It’s hard to think of other examples in recent history like this without drawing on South African apartheid or the caste system in India or the Jim Crow era prior to the civil rights movement. Those are the obvious analogies. In some ways, the restrictions are more severe for the unvaccinated. It’s not just that you have to sit at the back of the plane, you can’t even get on the plane. It’s not just that you have a separate place to sit at the lunch counter, but you can’t go into the establishment at all. I think that’s an accurate assessment.

CWR: What do you think it will take to end COVID vaccine mandates? Will it be court action?

Aaron Kheriaty: Ultimately I think the thing that’s going to stop these vaccine mandate are just people on the ground just refusing to comply. We’re starting to see that. That’s going to have more immediate and perhaps more profound effect than what happens in the courts.

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About Joseph M. Hanneman 101 Articles
Joseph M. Hanneman writes from Madison, Wisconsin.


  1. At age 73, I’ve had Covid and, as a result, have natural immunity which I believe is far superior than the questionably-effective vaccine and its probable ill-effects. I was willing to take my chances with Covid and am glad I did.

    I applaud this physician for standing up for conscience rights not be be forcibly injected with agents of questionable value. I only wish our Pope and bishops had similar moral courage to stand up for conscience rights. But, alas, bishops are more politicians than moral agents these days. I am calmed, though, by Catholic laymen like this doctor who are willing to stand up for what is important.

    To be honest with readers, I am more frightenened of how easily brainwashed the mass of people are that they are willing to follow lockstep the diktats of any government. The same politicians are responsible for the death of over 60 million unborn human persons by abortion. Now they want us to trust them and submit to a vaccine. I used to wonder how it was possible that 6 million human persons were gassed and thrown into ovens by the Nazis. I used to wonder how the Communists in Soviet Russia killed 50+ million persons. I used to wonder how the Khmer Rouge enticed Cambodians to kill their fellows. I used to wonder how Rwandans were able to commit such atrocities against each other. I no longer wonder. The conclusion I’ve come up with is that in the face of power, few are willing to stand up and say, “I will not comply; it is against my conscience.”

    It is NOT Covid that’s killing us. It is a total breakdown of moral will that is killing us.

    • So, is Deacon Ed generating his reaction to vaccines because he had COVID and survived and is now “safe”? I am glad for him and pray his health will hold. However, sounds a bit like “herd immunity” accomplished by thinning out the herd at the cost of of the sheep. Not sure “moral will” is the real issue.

      • You should reference the many Amish communities and their “herd immunity” to Covid. Now there’s a principled religious community.

      • Would you also characterize the deaths and serious adverse reactions of all those who were led to believe that the experimental mRNA shots – which are not vaccines – were safe and effective as a different manifestation of thinning out the herd at the cost of the sheep, Nancy?

  2. To me it has long been obvious that when reporting figures in the Covid battle, they should be broken down as a matter of course into these 3 categories.

    1) Seniors who catch it – they are old and their immune systems are not as strong as when they were young.
    2) Those whose immune systems are not strong to begin with, meaning that they would be more likely victims of the virus.
    3) The young and healthy.

  3. Thank you Dr. Aaron for your courage in standing up to evil. And thank you Joseph for writing this article. We are in a war. It’s a war against Truth. Will we fight for the Truth or submit to the lie?

  4. “Public magistrates have no direct power over the bodies of their subjects; therefore, where no crime has taken place and there is no cause present for grave punishment, they can never directly harm, or tamper with the integrity of the body, either for the reasons of eugenics or for any other reason.” Casti Connubii, 70, Pope Pius XI

  5. In June the Supreme Governance Court of the Czech Republic/EU ruled out that any government decision not taking antibodies levels is discriminatory. This way any national regulation regarding mandatory covid vaccination was ruled out once and forever. Nowadays Czech imunologists say natural protection after covid recovery is far better and more lasting than covid vaccination. Greetings from EU!

  6. God bless Dr.Kheriaty – the means to have already come up with rather depenadble immunity level tests to make exemptions for vaccine mandates is the responsibilty of the Govt .; making excuses that the existing tests to measure the levels are not reliable can be compared to a small town speed trap that makes the excuse that its breathalyser is broken , hence any motorist that seems to waver is either fined or jailed . The need to come up with tests and follow the already existing pattern of making exemptions for those with existing antibody levels such as in Hep B and Measels / Rubella can be adopted in this situation as well , esp. considering the advocacy of use of vaccines for children .

    OTOH, ? Could it be that the good doctor is being prepared to come up with massive litigtaion plans for uninformed consent , on the ill effects from sins against life in families as well as the culture as a whole that his background would help him to be familar with !
    ? Mama Gates to consider a massive Nile river proportioned reparation scheme for the above , wanting the whole family to be part of the K. O.C Family and with the blessing of Holy Father Francis too , for the miracle of seeing the deserts , both internal and external to bloom in the Light of The Divine Will and watered abundantly in the New Life in The Blood and Water ..

  7. Dr. Glenn Rothfeld has done medical research at Harvard University, and has integrative medical centers in Massachusetts. In a video presented by North Star Nutritionals, he states that “The virus is nothing. Immunity is everything.” What he refers to is the fact that a person can strengthen their body against a virus through the consumption of foods that are known to strengthen the immune system. Ascorbic acid in really high doses was used by Dr. Frederick Klenner to cure polip, years ago. You could read about that in the chapter on viruses in the online free book, THE HEALING FACTOR: VITAMIN C AGAINST DISEASE, by Dr. Irwin Stone.

  8. I am concerned that these and similar efforts have and will retard society level immunity. It seems to me that the effects of such retardation have been and will be more cases, variants, hospitalizations, social disruptions and deaths.

    Assuming someone agrees they may counter that these increased evil effects of the virus can be tolerated in view of the good of upholding Constitutional or natural rights and thrawting tyranny. We might call this then “Give me freedom, and give me and others death and illness” approach.

    One reply to that might be that there is still a debate whether in a health emergency there are such rights.

    A person might also say, “COVID is not a real health emergency!”

    I keep coming to this: It seems unreasonable to publicly oppose so as to widely discourage a morally permissible and effective means to mitigate and/or end this whole “COVID thing”, call it what you will.

    And it seems to me reasonable to believe that this is exactly what many (not all) on the right have been engaged in from near the beginning and not always by touting actual facts! To be specific to this article, Dr. Kheriate strikes me as exaggerating natural immunity and understating the immunity derived from the vaccine. He also does not give place to the greater immunity derived once a naturally infected and recovered person gets a shot.

    In any event the debate is still quite open and in my opinion in need of more nuanced presentation.

    Time will tell who ended up having the best of the various controverted points. But my choice has been thus far to receive the first two doses of Moderna and follow CDC guidance on masks and other things. My hope is that enough will make the same choice by whatever route and we can see in the coming year a time when these debates give way to whatever is next.

    Thank you for your consideration.

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