Politics

Scientist Within US Government Agency NIH Pushes Back Against Vaccine Mandates


A senior researcher of infectious disease at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has come out against vaccine mandates at his workplace — the country’s primary federal agency for conducting and supporting medical research — and has asked for an agency ethics review.

Matthew Memoli, 48, runs a clinical studies unit within the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). A 16-year NIH veteran, he plans to argue against mandatory covid-19 vaccination with currently available shots, and he refuses to be vaccinated, the Wall Street Journal reported.

NIAID is one of the 27 institutes and centers that make up the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The NIH has close to 20,000 staff. Dr. Anthony Fauci is a physician-scientist and immunologist serving as the director of the NIAID and the chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced on Aug. 12 that health care workers must be vaccinated against covid-19. That includes all NIH staff who have the potential to come into contact with patients. They must be vaccinated against covid-19 in order to report to work. Covid testing is not an option in place of vaccination for these staff members.

Dr. Memoli’s views and unvaccinated status as a doctor make him an exception inside and outside the NIH, Wall Street Journal reported. More than 88 percent of the NIH’s federal employees were fully vaccinated by the end of Nov. 1 and the rest have until Nov. 22 to be vaccinated or seek an exemption.

Epidemiologists and public-health experts overwhelmingly support vaccinations as the best way to save lives, build immunity and defeat the virus, WSJ reported. “In their view, holdouts like Dr. Memoli—doctors and other healthcare workers who potentially hold sway over others—damage efforts to prevent deaths and severe illness.”

There is agency-wide interest in the case against covid vaccines, according to Dr. Christine Grady, head of the NIH’s Clinical Center bioethics department. Dr. Grady is married to Dr. Fauci, who has advocated for strict mandates to raise the level of vaccination.

“There’s a lot of debate within the NIH about whether (a vaccine mandate) is appropriate,” said David Wendler, a senior NIH bioethicist who is in charge of planning a Dec. 1 seminar on the ethics of mandates. “It’s an important, hot topic.”

Dr. Wendler, who reports to Dr. Grady, said the bioethics department doesn’t set out to influence government policy. “We’re a consultation service and sort of an academic department,” he said. “We’re not policy people.”

Dr. Memoli said he supports covid-19 vaccination in high-risk populations including the obese and elderly. But he argues that blanket vaccination of people at low risk of severe illness with the existing vaccines could hamper the development of more-robust immunity gained across a population from infection.

“I think the way we are using the vaccines is wrong,” Memoli said. In a July 30 email to Dr. Fauci, Memoli called vaccine mandates “extraordinarily problematic.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that covid-19 was more than five times more common among hospitalized people who were unvaccinated and had a previous infection, compared with those who were fully vaccinated and hadn’t had covid-19 before. Other research suggests vaccines provide stronger protection against coronavirus than previous infection.

Dr. Memoli said his children have all their childhood vaccinations. “I do vaccine trials. I, in fact, help create vaccines,” he said. “Part of my career is to share my expert opinions, right or wrong.…I mean, if they all end up saying I’m wrong, that’s fine. I want to have the discussion.”

Memoli was selected this month for a 2021 NIH director’s award, a top recognition from the head of the agency, for his supervision of a national study into undiagnosed covid-19 cases early in the pandemic. He has applied for an exception on religious grounds in Washington, D.C., where he is licensed to practice medicine. He said he is willing to risk his job and his license for the right not to receive a covid-19 shot.

In late July, the board of directors at the Federation of State Medical Boards released a statement notifying physicians that promoting dangerous falsehoods about covid-19 vaccines could put their medical licenses at risk. Several state medical boards told CNN that complaints about misinformation are piling up, but only a handful of low-profile doctors have been formally punished. High-profile doctors spreading misinformation to millions of followers have faced no such regulatory scrutiny.

At least 26 states are pushing back against the Biden administration’s coronavirus vaccine-or-test mandate for businesses that have at least 100 employees. Some have filed lawsuits. One, led by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals claimed that the requirement is “unconstitutional, unlawful, and unwise.” The wave of legal challenges came a day after the Biden administration published details about the mandate, which sets a Jan. 4 deadline.

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