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UC Irvine fires physician who refused to get vaccinated, claiming ‘natural immunity’

Dr. Aaron Kheriaty is a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at UC Irvine's medical school
Dr. Aaron Kheriaty is a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at UC Irvine’s medical school and director of the medical ethics program at UCI Health.
(UC Irvine)

A UC Irvine professor who claimed in a lawsuit to have a natural immunity to COVID-19 has been fired for refusing the vaccine.

Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the medical school and director of the medical ethics program at UCI Health, wrote in a blog post that the University of California system removed him from his position on Dec. 17.

“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,” he wrote, later adding, “Once I challenged one of their policies I immediately became a ‘threat to the health and safety of the community.’”

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In August, Kheriarty sued the University of California Board of Regents and Michael V. Drake, the system’s president, alleging he should be exempt from the university’s vaccine mandate because he has a “natural immunity” to COVID-19 after being exposed to the virus. The doctor asserted that treating those who have coronavirus antibodies — by virtue of contracting it — differently from those who are fully vaccinated is unconstitutional. Research shows that coronavirus immunity wanes over time.

Kheriaty said in his blog post that he was placed on unpaid leave in October because he did not comply with the UC system’s vaccination mandate, which now requires students, faculty and staff to receive booster shots — with few exceptions — before they can step foot on campus.

The physician has been a vocal opponent of the UC system’s vaccination mandate, maintaining that such requirements are medically unethical and infringe on personal liberties.

“A person may freely choose to accept medical risks for the benefit of others, as when one donates a kidney for transplant. But there is no moral duty to do so,” Kheriaty wrote in a Wall Street Journal editorial. “This is why we don’t harvest organs without consent, even if doing so would save many lives. Those who make such sacrifices for others must truly be volunteers, not conscripts drafted by college administrators.”

Kheriaty could not be reached for comment Sunday night. UCI administrators declined to speak about his firing, citing “personnel matters.”

The doctor has said he is not opposed to the COVID-19 vaccine, but believes that mandates put those who decline a shot for religious, health or other personal reasons at a disadvantage. “I’m ‘pro’ let the person decide,” Kheriarty told The Times in May. “Let the individual weigh their own risks and benefits.”

Kheriaty wrote that the UC system barred him from using his accumulated paid vacation days after he was placed on unpaid suspension. “In an effort to pressure me to resign, they wanted to restrict my ability to earn an income not only at the university but outside the university as well,” he said. “It was dizzying and at times surreal.”


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