Kentucky teen who sued over school ban for refusing chickenpox vaccination now has chickenpox

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By David K. Li

A northern Kentucky teen banned from school for refusing the chickenpox vaccination due to his religious beliefs has come down with the childhood malady, his attorney said Wednesday.

Jerome Kunkel, a student at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Assumption Academy, first started showing chickenpox symptoms last week and hopes to be done with it within the next few days, a lawyer for the 18-year-old told NBC News.

Kunkel and his family have no regrets about their decision to not be vaccinated.

“These are deeply held religious beliefs, they’re sincerely held beliefs,” family attorney Christopher Wiest said. “From their perspective, they always recognized they were running the risk of getting it, and they were OK with it.”

Jerome Kunkel, an unvaccinated high school student, and his father, Bill, in Kentucky on March 18, 2019.WLWT

Some ultra-conservative Catholics oppose chickenpox vaccinations because it was developed in the 1960s from cell lines of two aborted fetuses.

A chickenpox outbreak at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Assumption Academy in March prompted state health officials to order unvaccinated students to stay away from school. Kunkel unsuccessfully challenged the state ban in court.

Now that Kunkel has had the chickenpox, and is thus immune to it, he hopes to be back in class soon for the first time since March 15.

Had state health officials not intervened, Wiest said his client would have had the chickenpox earlier this year and been done with it already.

“The ban was stupid,” his lawyer said. “He could have contracted this in March and been back to school by now.”

Doug Hogan, a spokesman for the Kentucky Health Department, declined comment on Wednesday.

Earlier this year, opponents of mandatory vaccinations seemed to pick up support from Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, who admitted that he’s exposed all nine of his children to chickenpox

“We found a neighbor that had it, and I went and made sure every one of them got it. They were miserable for a few days and they all turned out fine,” Bevin told WKCT, a radio station Bowling Green, in March.

Despite his unorthodox actions, Gov. Bevin urged parents to get their kids vaccinated.