My Article and Interview with Jonathan Isaac
I recently published an article and did an interview on The Highwire with the starting forward of the NBA's Orlando Magic
On today’s episode of The Highwire, host Del Bigtree interviewed me and my friend Jonathan Isaac of the Orlando Magic. You can watch our interview here (Episode 150). Del begins with a monologue discussing the case of the number 1 ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic's detention by the Australian government and the conflict over whether this unvaccinated athlete can defend his title in the Australian Open. Jonathan’s segment starts at minute 7, and I join him at minute 18. As I’ve mentioned before in this newsletter, Jonathan is in my opinion the most well-informed and articulate of the professional athletes who have opposed vaccine mandates; you can pre-order his book, mentioned in this interview, here. Of course, I likewise admire the tremendous courage that Novak Djokovic has exhibited during his totally unnecessary ordeal (watch this video of his father’s remarks linked here):
Aside from our interview, this entire episode of The Highwire is worth watching. It includes reporting on some recent studies on vaccine immunity and natural immunity against Omicron, today’s Supreme Court decisions striking down the federal OHSA vaccine mandate for businesses, but upholding the CMS mandate for healthcare workers, as well as the attempted “takedown” of the Great Barrington Declaration Scientists (including my friends Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford and Martin Kulldorff of Harvard) by our public health bureaucrats. Also, my lawyer Aaron Siri joins the program at 1:23 to engage in a wide-ranging conversation about the oral arguments at the Supreme Court, seriously misinformed Supreme Court justices who lacked very basic facts about Covid and vaccines, his recent victory in an important case striking down a mandate from the San Diego Unified School District, and the FOIA cases we have filed against the CDC and FDA, which I described in previous posts.
In response to a recent piece in the New York Times that mentioned Jonathan Isaac by name and me by reference to to my lawsuit, this week Jonathan and I published this opinion piece on vaccine mandates:
I am very proud of this article, which was truly a collaboration between the two of us. While I contributed the middle section on the science, Jonathan nailed the philosophical arguments in the opening and closing paragraphs. Here is the text of our piece:
A recent New York Times article, “If You’ve Had Covid, Do You Need the Vaccine?” argues that vaccination is still the best choice after recovering from the disease. It mentions both of us, Mr. Isaac by name and Dr. Kheriaty by reference to a “psychiatrist” with a link to my lawsuit challenging the University of California’s mandate. We argue, on the contrary, that the scientific evidence does not favor vaccination—nor warrant coercive mandates or restrictions—for those with natural (infection-induced) immunity. Furthermore, we affirm that all people should maintain the right to informed consent or refusal for Covid vaccines.
The natural immunity debate, to which Dr. Fauci recently said he has no firm answer, is not about whether people should try to acquire natural immunity by deliberately getting infected; nobody is suggesting this. It is about the level of immunity afforded to those who have already recovered from Covid (estimated at more than half of all Americans) compared to immunity from the vaccine.
Current mandates and restrictions that hinder Americans from working, getting back on campus, or being fully present with their teams, are arbitrarily discriminatory and are not reasonable conclusions of the data. For example, a person considered fully vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is, according to the datasubmitted to the FDA, 67% protected against infection; whereas studies of natural immunity consistently shows 99% protection against reinfection. Why is the first group included and the second group excluded from the workplace, travel, or other venues? That these policies ignore natural immunity already suggests an unscientific approach to their formation, as does the fact that Covid has a 99.998% survival rate for healthy people under 50.
Vaccine immunity against Covid infection begins to wane after four months (protection against severe symptoms fortunately does not decline as much). Unlike the polio vaccine, which remains over 99% effective for many years, a Mayo Clinic study showed that by July the efficacy of Moderna’s vaccine had dropped to 76% and Pfizer’s to 42%, which is consistent with Pfizer’s data showing a 6% efficacy decline every two months. By contrast, natural immunity has shown no signs of waning with time and new variants, with data going back to the beginning of the pandemic.
Much of the debate on natural immunity focuses on questions about antibody levels, but these are of variable clinical relevance: antibody levels do not necessarily correlate with long-term immunity. Circulating antibodies always drop over time, whether after infection or vaccination. Long-term immunity relies also on memory B-cells (which quickly ramp up antibody production when re-exposed to the virus) and T-cells. An available lab test measuring T-cells for Covid can establish prior infection even after antibodies decline. The clinically meaningful comparisons are not antibody tests but actual rates of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. On all these measures, the evidence is now compelling that natural immunity is superior to vaccine immunity.
The largest study comparing the unvaccinated/naturally immune to the vaccinated found that vaccinated people were 6 to 13 times more likely to get infected, 27 times more likely to get symptomatic infections, and 8 times more likely to be hospitalized. These findings are not surprising, since infection with the virus allows our body to form an immune response to many parts (epitopes) on the virus, whereas the vaccines expose us only to one part, the spike protein. Data from Qatar found that only 0.02% of Covid recovered individuals experienced reinfection, with no waning over time, and with reinfections less severe than initial infections. Data from the U.K. during Delta likewise found a 0.025% reinfection rate in Covid recovered people, compared to a 23% breakthrough infection rate in vaccinated people over the same time period.
The argument that “you might not benefit but should still get vaccinated for the sake of others” does not apply to Covid vaccines, because they do not prevent infection and transmission, but only lower the risk of severe symptoms. There are now countless documented cases of breakthrough infections in the vaccinated, and their likelihood of transmitting the virus is the same as the unvaccinated, as the Director of the CDC has acknowledged. By contrast, there is not a single reported case of someone with natural immunity getting a reinfection and transmitting the virus to others: we are the safest people to be around.
But perhaps vaccinating Covid-recovered individuals could still improve their immunity a bit more? The Israeli study mentioned above analyzed this question: the previously infected went from 99.74% immunity before vaccination to 99.86% after vaccination for the duration of the study. These differences are negligible and have no clinical relevance whatsoever. This miniscule difference included asymptomatic reinfections; numbers for symptomatic reinfections, hospitalizations, or deaths showed no improvement with vaccination.
Vaccination always involves some risk of adverse events, however small—including known risks of myocarditis, which are higher for young men. Of relevance, several studies suggest Covid recovered individuals are at elevated risk of vaccine adverse effects (as seen in studies here, here, here, and here, for example). According to U.K. data, for every 11 vaccinations, one person will have a clinically significant adverse reaction. Such risks are warranted only where there are meaningful clinical benefits. Based on Israel’s data, we would need to vaccinate 833 Covid-recovered people to prevent 1 asymptomatic reinfection, and we cannot even calculate the number to prevent 1 symptomatic infection because that showed no improvement. Thus, to prevent one case of asymptomatic reinfection, we would cause over 75 cases (833/11) of clinically significant adverse events. The number of people harmed to prevent one case of symptomatic reinfection would be much higher—too high to calculate with our current data.
While we have no objections to Covid-recovered individuals freely choosing to get vaccinated, the risk/benefit tradeoff displays the need for policies and measures that respect the free choice of those who don’t. With full evaluation of Covid, its vaccines, and the scientific legitimacy of natural immunity, it is obvious these findings undermine the swift and blunt hammer of the vaccine mandate. They leave room for nuanced, scientific, and inclusive policies that better reflect the data.
The same essential people who courageously worked on the frontlines defending us during Covid now face bullying from their peers and no support from the government of a country that was founded on freedom. We conclude that forced vaccinations are scientifically unjustifiable and—recalling the founding principles of our nation—contrary to our shared values as Americans. We can fight Covid and defend freedom simultaneously.
Jonathan Isaac is the starting forward for the NBA’s Orlando Magic.
Aaron Kheriaty is a physician, a Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and Chief of Ethics at The Unity Project.
I’ll be posting updates on my case and the FDA and CDC FOIA cases here soon.