On Dec. 1, 2021, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will host a live-streamed roundtable discussion over the ethics of vaccine mandates. The open to the public session will be led by Dr. Mathew Memoli, Director of the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases at NIH, who will argue against vaccine mandates. The critical debate, which will take place at noon at NIH Headquarters in Bethesda, MD, was approved by Dr. Christine Grady, Head of the Bioethics Department at NIH’s Clinical Center and wife of Dr. Anthony Fauci

Dr. Memoli, a senior bioethicist who heads a research team at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), has chosen not to be vaccinated with one of the experimental COVID-19 vaccines and is willing to risk his career and license for the right not to accept a COVID jab. In a Jul. 30 email to NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci and two of his lieutenants, Dr. Memoli—a 16-year veteran at the NIH—called mandated vaccination “extraordinarily problematic,” adding, “I think the way we are using the vaccines is wrong.”  

Dr. Memoli recently told the Wall Street Journal that he supports COVID-19 vaccination in high-risk groups, including the obese and the elderly. However, he maintains that with current vaccines, widespread vaccination of individuals at low risk of serious illness could prevent the development of “more robust natural immunity gained across a population from infection.” Selected this month for a 2021 NIH director’s award for supervising a national study into undiagnosed COVID-19 cases early in the pandemic, Memoli indicated his children have all their childhood vaccines. 

Dr. Matthew Memoli; Photo: Charles Dharapak / AP

Holding firm to his convictions, Dr. Memoli, 48, has sought an exemption from the NIH mandate based on religious beliefs and has applied for an exception from requirements imposed by health officials in Washington, D.C., where he’s licensed to practice medicine. According to the NIH, nearly 88% of its federal employees were fully vaccinated by the end of October. Those not vaccinated will need to prove they are vaccinated or have asked for an exemption before the federal vaccine mandate deadline of Nov. 22. 

In charge of planning the session, Dr. David Wendler, Head of NIH’s Section of Research Ethics, remarked that “there’s a lot of debate within the NIH about whether [a vaccine mandate] is appropriate. It’s an important, hot topic.” In a May Forbes article titled “Why Experts Say It’s Vital That Parents Get Their Kids Vaccinated For COVID,” Wendler stated, “Even if kids don’t get that sick, they are vectors for transmission.” Wendler, who reports to Grady (Fauci’s wife, who, according to fact-checkers, has nothing to do with mandates or vaccine approvals) commented that the bioethics department doesn’t set out to influence policy, adding, “we’re a consultation service and sort of an academic department. We’re not policy people.”

Still, Wendler and Grady have collaborated on numerous papers exploring vaccine trial ethics during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a Dec. 11, 2020 paper in ‘Science,’ titled “COVID-19 vaccine trial ethics once we have efficacious vaccines,” the duo wrote:

“There is a global crisis for which there are currently limited treatment options. Hence, billions of individuals could benefit from a safe and efficacious vaccine. Limitations on current treatment options mean that it is in each individual’s interests to receive the first vaccine found to be safe and efficacious, rather than participate in vaccine trials where they might receive placebo or an unproven vaccine candidate.”

Jun. 2, 2017, NIH Hosts 4th Workshop with Gates Foundation. With Gates are (from l) Collins, Fauci and VRC scientists Dr. Mario Roederer, Dr. John Mascola, Dr. Rick Koup, Dr. Michelle Crank, Dr. Nancy Sullivan, Graham and Dr. Marybeth Daucher.

UncoverDC spoke with Justin Cohen, NIH Clinical Center’s Chief Officer of Communications and Media Relations. They shared that in addition to Dr. Memoli and Dr. Wendler, the roundtable will include the Director of the Vaccine Research Center (VRC) at the NIAID, Dr. John Mascola. According to the agency’s website, besides being the Scientific Director and Center Director, he oversees program operations, including the development of vaccine and antibody-based research programs for diseases of public health importance, including HIV, Influenza, Ebola, and COVID-19.

Notably, Mascola, who spent 30 years on HIV development, launched the effort to find the first antibody treatment, later marketed by Eli Lily. According to Endpoints News, before COVID-19, Mascola and fellow HIV researchers, who were on a decades-long quest to build a vaccine against HIV, were nearing “something” that might work—broad neutralizing antibodies. When SARS-CoV-2 broke out, they switched gears, and for the first time, as a by-product of the warp-speed COVID-19 vaccine hunt, HIV vaccines based on Mascola’s research are entering humans. Endpoint explains:

“The story of how researchers arrived at these so-called broadly neutralizing antibodies over the last 30 years is one of the hidden stories of everything that went right about America’s pandemic response, the silent engine behind the vaccine and, particularly, the most effective treatments: antibody therapies from Vir, Regeneron, and Eli Lilly.”

The Dec. 1, 2021, NIH roundtable seminar (which is not yet on the NIH Event Calendar but can be watched HERE on Wed. Dec. 1 at noon) follows a ruling on Nov. 12, 2021, from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The ruling temporarily halts the implementation of Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate—broadcast as an OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard —on private employers with 100 or more employees. Currently, dozens of lawsuits have been filed against the Biden administration over the vaccine mandate for both private and federal workers.

The event is part of the Clinical Center’s “Grand Rounds,” a weekly CME (continuing medical education) activity. An agency spokeswoman, who commented on Grady’s behalf, said of the event, “Our hope is that the December Grand Rounds will be relevant to the debates that are going on around the country regarding vaccine mandates.” Looking forward to the debate, Memoli said he would support the results of the ethics discussion regardless of the outcome, adding:

“I do vaccine trials. I, in fact, help create vaccines. Part of my career is to share my expert opinions, right or wrong. I mean, if they all end up saying I am wrong, that’s fine. I want to have the discussion.”