An unvaccinated Kentucky high school student who challenged an order from state health officials to ban unvaccinated students from school has contracted the chickenpox.
In March, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Assumption Academy in northern Kentucky, which was founded by the family of Jerome Kunkel, the unvaccinated student, experienced a chickenpox outbreak, prompting the state to issue a ban on unvaccinated students attending the school. Kunkel, whose religious beliefs precluded him from being vaccinated, filed a lawsuit against the Northern Kentucky health department, but a judge ruled against him. Kunkel’s attorney, Christopher Wiest said, "We think the judge misapplied the law and that’s what appeals courts are for, to make sure the law is followed,” adding that he would pursue the case to the Kentucky Supreme Court.
But on Wednesday, Wiest acknowledged Kunkel had contracted the disease, saying he first showed symptoms last week, NBC News reported. He added, "These are deeply held religious beliefs, they're sincerely held beliefs. From their perspective, they always recognized they were running the risk of getting it, and they were OK with it."
As NBC News notes, “Some ultraconservative Catholics oppose chickenpox vaccinations because it was developed in the 1960s from cell lines of two aborted fetuses.”
Kunkel told WLWT, "It was kind of ridiculous, because they issued the ban for 21 days, then it got extended longer because another kid came down with the chicken pox, so then it went on for longer. Towards the end of the ban, I actually got the chicken pox which should have extended the ban, but for some reason they didn't.” He added, “Things are sort of normal except for you know, the homework I got to catch up with and stuff like that."
Wiest added, "The ban was stupid. He could have contracted this in March and been back to school by now."
State health officials said Wiest was "downplaying the dangers of the chickenpox."
Laura Brinson, a spokeswoman for the Northern Kentucky Health Department, stated, "Encouraging the spread of an acute infection disease in a community demonstrates a callous disregard for the health and safety of friends, family, neighbors and unsuspecting members of the general public,"
Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin has encouraged parents to vaccinate their children although he exposed all nine of his children to chickenpox. He told WKCT, “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.”
According to the CDC:
Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV) … Chickenpox can be serious, especially in babies, adolescents, adults, pregnant women, and people with a weakened immune system. The best way to prevent chickenpox is to get the chickenpox vaccine. Chickenpox used to be very common in the United States. In the early 1990s, an average of 4 million people got chickenpox, 10,500 to 13,000 were hospitalized, and 100 to 150 died each year. Chickenpox vaccine became available in the United States in 1995. Each year, more than 3.5 million cases of chickenpox, 9,000 hospitalizations, and 100 deaths are prevented by chickenpox vaccination in the United States.