Dr. Stephen Skoly is a well-known oral and maxillofacial surgeon in Rhode Island. He has been called to testify before lawmakers and serves as chairman of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity.
But recently, Skoly made news for another reason: He opposes his state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Because of his principled stand, he no longer is allowed to see patients or practice medicine.
Skoly joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” along with Mike Stenhouse, president of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, to explain why they’re fighting heavy-handed government mandates.
Listen to the podcast or read a lightly edited transcript below.
Rob Bluey: Dr. Skoly, let’s begin with you. You are a well-known surgeon in Rhode Island and you’ve recently been ordered to cease care by the state Department of Health because you objected to the health care worker vaccine mandate. Can you explain to us what’s going on in your situation and what you currently face today?
Stephen Skoly: Sure. I received a compliance order on Friday, Oct. 1, to prohibit in-person care for my patients and the other patients that I would see throughout the state. I’ve been practicing here since 1988 and actually have a multitude of contracts, which include some of the state facilities as well as my private practice. The state facilities are inclusive of the Department of Corrections, special needs facilities, Zambarano Hospital, Eleanor Slater Hospital … and again, as I said, in addition to that, my private practice.
Bluey: And this is big news in your state. The Providence Journal has covered the story extensively. Can you explain how you ended up in this situation and some of the principle positions that you’ve taken that have led the state to come after you for this?
Skoly: Sure. The COVID mandate was issued in the middle of August with a charge of mandated vaccinations for health care workers by Oct. 1. I looked into a multitude of things. The most important for me at that point was a medical exemption. I had a somewhat complicated issue following a couple episodes of Lyme disease, which resulted in me having some Bell’s palsy. I had an ocular injury as a young adult to one of my eyes, which I’ve had some lens replacements.
And Rhode Island is pretty known for patients with Lyme disease. I mean, Lyme disease is very prevalent in southern New England. It’s prevalent in Connecticut and Long Island, certainly the Rhode Island shore, the cape, and the islands. And early on when I had this, a lot was not known about Lyme disease, and it came apparent that the Bell’s palsy I had associated was pretty much pathognomonic for making a diagnosis.
So I had that as a young adult. Now, some of the literature also suggests that these vaccinations and this COVID-19 vaccination could predispose patients with a history of Lyme disease and Bell’s palsy at an increased risk of developing Bell’s palsy. I recovered fine as a young adult, but I’m in my 60s now and might not recover so quickly or might not recover at all and I really don’t want any issues with my eyes.
So we looked at and we listened to the literature about the medical immunization exemptions. And when my primary care looked at it, there’s really no place, there’s no box to check. You either have an exemption because you have a severe allergic reaction or basically you’ve developed some type of myocardial problem secondary to the vaccination.
From that standpoint, and in conjunction with the fact that I actually recovered from COVID—I got COVID in December of 2020, pretty sick for a few days, all the symptoms with the exception of I didn’t really have a lot of the pulmonary symptoms, but certainly a lot of symptoms. And I did my appropriate quarantine and came back to the office.
I have been following my antibodies since that time and as recently as last week have quite a high level of COVID-19 spike protein IgG, which is the antibody for the recovery of my process. And it’s given me a pretty robust naturally acquired immunity and probably, and the literature is suggesting, that I might have five times the antibodies that a fully vaccinated person might have.
So that in conjunction with the fact that I have a medical reason to look into, also in conjunction with the fact that throughout this whole process, the whole pandemic, we’ve been practicing heightened universal precautions.
I guess it’s OK for me to have seen a lot of patients who need my emergency services through the pandemic when, quite honestly, there was no vaccination, there was no herd immunity, and there really were inadequate medical interventions.
Fast forward 19, 20 months later, we’re approaching herd immunity, if not already achieved it. We have a vaccination and I have naturally acquired immunity, in addition with universal precautions. I think I should be able to continue practicing.
Bluey: Well, doctor, I’ll come back to you because I have some follow-up questions I want to ask you, but I want to bring Mike Stenhouse into this conversation because the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity has recently produced a policy brief titled “Natural Immunity Should Be Included as a Vaccine Exemption.” So Mike, tell us your perspective on this and, looking at the data and the research, what you found.
Mike Stenhouse: Sure. And there’s a larger issue at play here, if I could first, Rob. And the mandates we’re seeing in Rhode Island—and don’t forget, there are multiple mandates. We have a school mask mandate for K-12 in this state and we have this health care worker vaccine mandate. The science is clear, and we put it forth in our memo with regard to natural immunity and vaccine immunization, I call it God-made immunity, which is natural immunity, versus man-made immunity, which is vaccine immunity. And in almost every case, something God-made is superior to something man-made.
And we have an epidemiologist who is an adjunct scholar to our center and he’s a regular guest on my video blog show called “In the Dugout With Mike Stenhouse.” And for months, six months, four to six months, he’s been talking about how natural immunity seems to be equal to, if not superior to, vaccine immunity.
So we [published] policy briefs where he cited the studies that show that. And even since we’ve put that policy brief out, the evidence is pouring in. It’s now overwhelming that natural immunity, as Doc Skoly just told you, is more effective, more protective than vaccine immunity.
But here’s the higher level point, Rob, if I may. In every case with the school mask mandates and with these vaccine mandates, this government in Rhode Island, the Department of Health officials, Director Nicole Alexander-Scott, and then the governor, Daniel McKee, are ignoring the real science. They’re basing mask and vaccine mandates on nonscientific data. They don’t put forth any data. They don’t even claim that there is specific research out there to back up their data.
I’d like to talk later about a court case that’s going on with the mask mandates to tie it in, but the higher level point here is that the state itself is not following the science, the real science, as they purport they do.
Bluey: Well, let me ask both of you this, on that note, and I do want to get to that court case in a moment, but the Rhode Island Department of Health and other elected officials in the state obviously appear to be putting politics ahead of health, as I’m hearing you describe this situation. As you’ve gone to them and explained the situation with natural immunity and maybe some of the other reasons that the vaccine mandate shouldn’t be imposing these requirements on individuals, what is the response you’re hearing from them?
Skoly: Well, I’ll direct that because it’s certainly affecting my ability to see patients. And we’re in the process of probably rescheduling in this quarter 2,100 patients. I mean, I understand the challenges facing public health officials when this pandemic started and nobody’s going to minimize the morbidity and mortality associated with the pandemic. It truly changed America and it’s sad, but the pandemic is certainly winding down and I want to get back to work.
My compliance order, I have not even been afforded a disciplinary hearing at this point. My challenge is, can I get a hearing? And I am assuming that they have no urgency to have this case heard before some type of disciplinary board.
The health and safety of my patients has never been, nor will it ever be, compromised or jeopardized, nor my staff. And with universal precautions and what we’ve done throughout the pandemic, there is no detriment to me seeing patients.
Bluey: On that note, it seems that if you’re having to cancel so many appointments with patients, they themselves are perhaps in a situation where they’re not getting the care that they need. So what has the reaction been from them, Doctor?
Skoly: I think the reaction for me has been extraordinary. I thought when I did this originally, I’d be the lone wolf. And as this goes further and further, I’m not the lone wolf. And I understand the charge of the Health Department and public health officials. I mean, for pandemics going forward, I think the algorithm is going to have to change. But having said that, their charge is to protect the public and I’m no imminent threat to the public at all, but there’s a threat to all the patients and what I do not being seen.
I trained at a Level I trauma center. I trained at Cook County Hospital and I thank those guys for the training that they gave me. It’s probably the first trauma center in the nation. It gave me the opportunity to take those skills here. I’ve done a lot of trauma, both in my practice and my private practice and for the state. And I think for me, not being able to continue to do that puts the health and safety of the public at greater harm than me not working.
Bluey: Mike, let’s bring you back into the conversation here and talk about the lawsuit you referenced earlier against the state’s school masking mandates. I know that parents are concerned about this, having the kids in a setting where all day they are forced to wear a mask, some of maybe the health implications related to that. What does the debate in Rhode Island look like right now and where do you see that going in the future?
Stenhouse: Right. I’ll get to that, but I want to go back to the question you asked two questions ago about what’s the reaction been when presented with the real science. There is no reaction because there has never been a forum for that. In our state, our pandemic response has been totally done under executive emergency action, whether it’s rules from the Department of Health or executive orders from the executive branch and the governor. No debate. The General Assembly, like cowards, have chosen not to engage. They don’t want to get involved.
So there has never been a forum where the alternative science can be presented and the fake science presented by the state can be challenged except for in this other court case.
So, in this other court case, parents brought a lawsuit against the state, three different departments of the state. The Department of Education, the Department of Health, and the executive branch all issued orders or rules to require masks. In no case did they cite the research to back up their mandates.
In court, for the very first time, there was a forum where the other, our side could be presented. And I can tell you that we are kicking their butts. They are panicked. They are trying to stop the epidemiologist expert from testifying. They’re trying to stop parents from testifying because they are tearing down the case, the medical premise for these mandates. It’s a clear case where the emperor has no clothes at all.
And in this open court, which is still ongoing, the government’s case is being systematically torn apart. And when Doc Skoly has his hearing—now, whether that’s in a public forum, we don’t know yet—the science will also show that the state has no medical basis for which to make these mandates, or at least to deny his claim of natural immunity. This is why this is so important in our state, because never before in a public forum has the real science been allowed to be presented.
Bluey: Mike, what is motivating these what appears to be elite bureaucrats in the state to impose these restrictions and these mandates on individuals like Dr. Skoly and so many of the other parents? Is it politics? Is it top-down control from Washington where, obviously, President [Joe] Biden has imposed similar policies? Or is there some other motivating factors?
Stenhouse: Well, we don’t know for sure. Of course, they say and they believe they have the science, even though they never cite it. I think it’s both of those things, top-down controls, politics. There’s probably some money involved, too.
We know that the Big Pharma companies want to push these vaccines and whatnot and we don’t know if there are kickbacks or people are bought and owned. We’ve had this discussion in our state before on mandates for the HPV virus seven or eight years ago when we found out that the state was basically getting kickbacks from Big Pharma for every vaccine it administered.
So we don’t exactly know, but the term “tyranny” has been thrown around an awful lot around here. Just for no reason, they do whatever they want without any justification. And at least in these hearings, now there’s a chance for us to respond. I wish I knew their motivations, Rob, but they’re not good ones, I’ll tell you that.
Bluey: And explain to our listeners why the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity has decided to take on this issue so directly. Obviously, having the chairman of the organization and the CEO speaking out there vocally about what’s going on in Rhode Island sends a strong message to the citizens of that state.
Stenhouse: I’ll let Doc respond in depth, but I’ll say this, in addition to the medical and technical reasons that Doc Skoly listed why he didn’t comply with the vaccine order, the unjust order, is because we stand for individual liberty and freedom. … So there was a principled reason why Doc took this position as well because it is the mission of our center to preserve and protect individual and constitutional rights. Doc Skoly, your thoughts on that.
Skoly: Yeah, sure. I’m sure at this point, appropriately so, there are a lot of health care workers in the state of Rhode Island who are practicing and are not vaccinated. I don’t know how they’re going to monitor that compliance. I don’t know what affidavits are going to come forward.
The executive order was issued Aug. 15 for compliance Oct. 1. So in my particular situation, I was able to practice with monitoring and COVID testing until Oct. 1, and then they knew and I made it public that I was not going to get vaccinated for my medical reasons and I wanted a medical exemption. So I am now, after Oct. 1, an imminent threat to the health of the public, but for every one of us who was unvaccinated and tested appropriately between Aug. 15 and Oct. 1, were we not imminent threats? We were unvaccinated then. And imminent I think means like right now.
And I am sure there are licensed practitioners in the state of Rhode Island and facilities, in fact, a lot of the facilities are asking for extensions and exemptions. They’re asking for extensions for compliance, because there’s a critical need for some of their services.
I think my open defiance of this medical tyranny wasn’t consistent with the government narrative that exists right here and they’re taking it out on me. We kind of expected it. I kind of knew it. I didn’t think it would go this far. I thought I would already have been granted a hearing and maybe make some type of exemption based on my medical history.
Bluey: And Dr. Skoly, when it comes to you taking this stand publicly, as I mentioned earlier, it’s been covered widely by The Providence Journal, and I imagine that in the medical community people are paying attention to what you’re doing. Where do you ultimately want this to end? What is the best outcome for you in this situation and how can that maybe influence other policies in states beyond Rhode Island?
Skoly: Sure. I think the charge would be to have the Department of Health start to look at the science, look at God-given immunity, look at naturally acquired immunity, look at and facilitate a discussion for that medical exemption immunization form where the patient can have a personal choice with their physician to determine what’s in their best interest.
At this point, here in Rhode Island, because of this and the way I see it, our freedom of choice, our personal responsibility, and our liberties are kind of vanishing right before us. So I’d like, certainly, that to be evaluated. And if you start to acquire and start to look at the science with natural immunity and the COVID survivors, they should be granted freedom from the vaccine mandate.
Bluey: And Doctor, one follow-up question to that. You mentioned the number of cancellations you’ve had to do as a result of this order. What does it mean for your livelihood? Are you able to continue indefinitely or does there come a point where you have to make some tough choices about what’s going to happen with your medical operation now?
Skoly: Yeah. I mean, I knew this going in, and I mean, I’m not the big boy, but I didn’t start doing this a few weeks ago. I’m in this until the end. I want to see this through. I couldn’t have done this 10 or 15 years ago. My kids were in college. You have familial obligations, you have your parents to take care of. I’m in a position now where I can withstand it a little bit. And it’s really given me a lot of sympathy for maybe, not demeaning the little guy, but the person who has to go to work, who can’t say, “I’m not going to work for a couple days because I want to stand in principle,” and their families are dependent on them.
I’m in a position, fortunately, pretty conservative investor, have kind of done OK. I can withstand this for a little bit. And I think I’m right and I think I’ve got this.
Bluey: Well, I know that our Daily Signal listeners will appreciate that principled position that you are taking. Mike, I want to go back and give you an opportunity to answer that same question. Where do you ultimately want to see this end up and what role do you see your organization ultimately playing in not only the education of people in Rhode Island, but maybe having an influence for other state-based policy organizations?
Stenhouse: Yeah, and we do think that potential to be something that can be important to other states in the future is there, and here’s why.
So my advice to anyone listening, we’ve seen all these lawsuits in all these states, and most of them are getting shut down, denied by the courts, because the arguments have been, well, does the government have the authority to impose these kinds of mandates and eliminate choices from people and do these mandates impose on people’s constitutional rights? And the courts are more consistently than not saying, “Well during an emergency, during a medical emergency in this pandemic, yes, we have to give government that leeway.”
What’s different about the court case with the parents—we call it the “parents united lawsuit”—who are going against school mask mandates, and what will be different in Doc Skoly’s hearing is the argument is not going to be so much on the power of the government versus the rights of the people, it’s going to be attacking the very medical basis that the government is using for these mandates.
In the school mask mandate trial, they’re arguing that there is no emergency among kids and masks, even if there was, are not the solution. Science says that they are ineffective.
So they’re attacking the medical premise that the government is making and we’re winning the day. I don’t know that we’ll ultimately win the case, but we are winning the day. And the state’s attorneys are panicked because they’re used to arguing this on a constitutional basis, which is pretty much a proven failure in this state.
So what I would like to see is what Doc Skoly just said, is to see the actual science get debated more and become part of the discussion so people in government and elected officials can determine whether or not there’s a real basis for seeking to impose these kinds of heavy-handed mandates on the citizenry.
Bluey: Well, thank you for helping to expose what is going on there. I want to give each of you an opportunity to make the last word here. Mike, Dr. Skoly, I think that our listeners really appreciate what goes on in the states, increasingly so as they see what’s happening in Washington. So if you want to tell us a little bit more about what the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity does and any of the other things that you might have going on at the organization, I’m sure that they would be grateful to hear about this.
Stenhouse: Well, I’ll give Doc the final word. RIFreedom.org is our website. We have a petition out there for Doc Skoly. It’s RIFreedom.org/DocSkoly. And just in a few days, I think we have about 500 signatures and each petition generates an email to state and health officials. So we’re really enthused about that.
It was Ronald Reagan who conceived the State Policy Network three, four decades ago because he said it’s great to have groups like [The Heritage Foundation]. This is exactly his cause. It’s great to have national groups like Heritage Foundation, but we need little mini Heritages across every state because there’s going to be so many state-based battles I can envision in the future. And Ronald Reagan was so prescient about that and correct. And we are the little mini Heritage in Rhode Island.
So for everything you guys stand for, we stand for it, too. We’re fighting it at a local level, where you guys fight it at a national level. Thank you for doing what you do and we’re just following in the tradition.
Skoly: I’ll follow up, and thank you as well for what you do. Mike, I hope this isn’t the last word. I hope we continue this debate and are able to show the science to a multitude of regulatory agencies.
I mean, the health care system, as well as what you just talked about a little bit, Mike, the educational system, has certainly been challenged even before COVID. I’m in my fourth decade of work and now I haven’t worked in seven or eight days. So I’m out there a little bit seeing what’s going on in America, certainly seeing what’s going on in Rhode Island, in my community. Has everybody looked around and seen what’s going on? It’s COVID chaos and it’s truly transformed our society.
So the final word is, if these mandates are allowed to continue, what kind of mandate is next? And I guess that’s why I’m just going to stand on principle. And hopefully I can do this for a long time and it has an appropriate outcome for the citizens of our state and for their health and safety.
Bluey: I think it’s a fair question to ask and I’m glad that you posed it. It’s something that we all need to consider. Having just interviewed Victor Davis Hanson, who wrote a book called “The Dying Citizen,” talking about the importance of citizenship and speaking up, I think that you both are a testament to what he’s talking about and I thank you for coming on the show today and describing what’s going on in Rhode Island. We’ll make sure to include a link to that petition in our show notes. And please keep us posted as things develop there. We want to make sure we follow this case.
Skoly: Last though, because I don’t want to steal that term, but that term I used, COVID chaos, was from his article on the Afghanistation of America, which I thought was just profound.
Bluey: Well, thank you for that. Dr. Stephen Skoly is chairman of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity and Mike Stenhouse serves as its CEO. Thank you both for being with The Daily Signal.
Skoly: Thank you very much.
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