A University of California professor is suing the school system's Board of Regents and president over a coronavirus vaccine mandate, which he argues he does not need because of his natural immunity against the virus.
"I feel like I'm being treated unequally," Aaron Kheriaty, professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the University of California, Irvine, said, SBG reported. "If my immunity is as good, indeed, very likely better, than that conferred by the vaccine, there doesn’t seem to be any rational basis for discriminating against my form of immunity and requiring me to get a different form of immunity."
Kheriaty, who serves as director of UCI's Medical Ethics Program and is a member of the UC Office of the President Critical Care Bioethics Working Group, said he contracted the virus in July 2020 and had raised concerns over the vaccine mandate to school leaders. However, he said he was met "mostly with radio silence" before he filed the lawsuit.
"Efforts to elicit conversation, discussion, debate on the issue have fallen flat in my experience," he said, adding that he took legal action after hearing concerns from others at the school.
"It became clear to me that if I, as a medical ethicist, didn’t stand up and try to represent those voices, then those folks would be steamrolled by these policies," he said.
Other faculty members joined Kheriaty on the effectiveness of natural immunity in a legal brief and cited research showing that people who have previously contracted COVID-19 may experience worse side effects from the vaccine than those who never contracted the virus.
"It violates medical ethics to expose someone to this risk when they have robust, durable immunity that actually neutralizes SARS-CoV-2 upon exposure," the faculty members wrote.
Kheriaty told Fox News on Thursday that he has "been overwhelmed with very encouraging correspondence, too much to keep up with, from many faculty and staff, as well as graduate and undergraduate students, at the University of California who have natural immunity and feel they don’t need the vaccine."
"The emails and messages thank me for filing the suit on their behalf. I’ve received appreciative messages also from faculty and staff who have been vaccinated but still believe the UC’s coercive mandate is unethical and dangerous, and so are supportive of my lawsuit," he said.
The school system does allow for temporary medical exemption from the vaccine mandate for those with natural immunity. The exemption, however, only covers for up to 90 days after a person is diagnosed with the coronavirus.
Kheriaty added that people should get the vaccine if they’re so inclined to do so, but noted that people should weigh the risks of the coronavirus against the risks of vaccine side effects.
"We reason about risks this way all the time," he said. "We recognize that there are competing social goods and that we’re always balancing those social goods. And somehow we haven’t been able to apply those ways of reasoning to COVID."
"The vaccine mandates bypass that whole process of individualized medicine and individualized care," he added. "And they bypass the process of informed consent that’s so central to good clinical medicine."
A study out of Israel published at the end of August shows that uninfected, vaccinated people are six to 13 times more likely to get an infection in the future compared to people who are unvaccinated and previously contracted the virus. It also found that vaccinated individuals are seven to 27 times more likely to have a symptomatic future infection than those who recovered from the virus.
The study is not yet peer-reviewed, but follows what other doctors and U.S. political leaders have said in recent months.
Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who is also a physician, said earlier this year he will not get the vaccine as he has natural immunity from previously contracting the virus.
"Until they show me evidence that people who have already had the infection are dying in large numbers, or being hospitalized or getting very sick, I just made my own personal decision that I’m not getting vaccinated because I’ve already had the disease and I have natural immunity," Paul said in May.
Paul added in an op-ed that month: "To dictate that a person recovered from COVID-19 with natural immunity also submit to a vaccine — without scientific evidence — is nothing more than hubris. If you have no proof that people who acquired natural immunity are getting or transmitting the disease in real numbers, then perhaps you should just be quiet."
U.S. health officials, meanwhile, have continued encouraging people to get the shot, regardless of whether they have already been infected. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published last month also found that people with natural immunity were twice as likely to be reinfected with the virus than those with natural immunity who were also vaccinated.
"These data further indicate that COVID-19 vaccines offer better protection than natural immunity alone and that vaccines, even after prior infection, help prevent reinfections," the CDC said in a news release on the study.
Kheriaty, however, argued that health officials are helping facilitate vaccine hesitancy because they are not transparent about the effectiveness of natural immunity.
"The American people are not stupid," he said. "When people see that public health officials are systematically ignoring important findings or important issues, it has the opposite effect of what the public health officials want. It increases vaccine hesitancy, rather than addressing the concerns of those who are hesitant."
"I worry that the public health approach of not telling the whole truth as a way to try to get the behavioral outcomes that we want might have a few short-term gains, but will have a lot of really negative long-term consequences because of the erosion of public trust," Kheriaty said.
The University of California Office of the President on Thursday forwarded a Fox News request for comment on the matter to the University of California Health. Fox News did not immediately hear back from the University of California Health.