Unvaccinated student who sued health agency during chickenpox outbreak now has chickenpox

The unvaccinated Kentucky teenager who sued after he was banned from school during a chickenpox outbreak now has chicken pox.

The attorney representing Jerome Kunkel, an 18-year-old senior at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart/Assumption Academy in Walton, Ky., told NBC News on Wednesday that Kunkel began showing symptoms of chickenpox last week.

The Kunkel family does not regret their decision to be unvaccinated, their attorney Christopher Wiest told the outlet.

ADVERTISEMENT

"These are deeply held religious beliefs, they're sincerely held beliefs," Weist said. “From their perspective, they always recognized they were running the risk of getting it, and they were OK with it."

NBC News reported that some ultraconservative Catholics oppose chickenpox vaccination because it was developed in the 1960s from cell lines of two aborted fetuses.

Northern Kentucky Health Department determined that unvaccinated students may not attend school or participate in school activities, such as sports, amid a chickenpox outbreak that affected over 30 students earlier this year. 

Kunkel’s family filed a lawsuit accusing the health department of religious discrimination after the varsity basketball player was barred from playing. 

The chickenpox vaccine is among those required for all children entering kindergarten in Kentucky, but the state allows vaccine exemptions for religious beliefs.

Boone County Circuit Judge James R. Schrand, however, upheld the health department’s right to impose bans in the event of an outbreak. 

Wiest called the ban “stupid," adding that Kunkel "could have contracted this in March and been back to school by now." 

Kunkel has been out of school since March 15 and is hoping to return now that he has been exposed to chickenpox and will be immune to it, Wiest said. 

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) made headlines in March when he said 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. 

The governor also expressed skepticism about state-mandated vaccinations.

"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."

Kunkel’s case of chickenpox comes amid a national discussion on vaccination exemptions as a measles outbreak spreads across the country.

There have been 764 confirmed cases of measles in at least 23 states between Jan. 1 and May 3, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. That is the greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since 1994 and since measles was declared eliminated in 2000.