Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) said Tuesday that he deliberately exposed his nine children to chickenpox rather than vaccinating them.
"They got the chickenpox on purpose because we found a neighbor that had it and I went and made sure every one of my kids was exposed to it, and they got it. They had it as children. They were miserable for a few days, and they all turned out fine," Bevin said in an interview with Bowling Green, Kentucky, talk radio station WKCT.
Bevin also expressed skepticism about the government mandating vaccines in the interview. The chickenpox vaccine is among those required for all children entering kindergarten in Kentucky.
Last week, a high school senior at Kentucky’s Our Lady of the Sacred Heart/Assumption Academy filed a lawsuit accusing the Northern Kentucky Health Department of religious discrimination for barring him from school because he has not received the chickenpox vaccine.
"Why are we forcing kids to get it? If you are worried about your child getting chickenpox or whatever else, vaccinate your child," Bevin said. "But for some people, and for some parents, for some reason they choose otherwise. This is America. The federal government should not be forcing this upon people. They just shouldn’t."
Bevin’s comments came the same day Philadelphia health officials announced a mumps outbreak at Temple University has increased from 13 to 67 cases.
Dr. Robert Jacobson, a pediatrician and expert in vaccines and childhood diseases at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said in an interview with the Courier Journal that the practice Bevin describes is unsafe.
"We're no longer living in the 17th century," he said. "I really recommend to my parents that they vaccinate their children, that they do it in a timely manner, and they recognize they are doing the right thing for their children."
A Hill-HarrisX poll last week suggested that while support for childhood vaccinations remains high, a partisan split on the issue may be emerging.
The Hill has reached out to Bevin's office for further comment.