Unvaccinated student sues Kentucky health agency for banning him from school

A Kentucky high school student is suing a health department agency in the state for barring him from school because he has not received the chickenpox vaccine.

The family of Jerome Kunkel, an 18-year-old senior at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart/Assumption Academy in Walton, Kentucky, filed a lawsuit last week alleging that the Northern Kentucky Health Department is discriminating against their Christian beliefs.

Kunkel’s father, Bill Kunkel, told local news station WLWT5: “I don't believe in that vaccine at all and they are trying to push it on us.”

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After a chickenpox outbreak at the school, the health department sent a letter to Assumption Academy families saying that beginning March 15, students without proof of vaccination will not be allowed to attend school until the outbreak is over for 21 days.

The North Kentucky Health Department said in a statement that barring unvaccinated students was “an appropriate and necessary response to prevent further spread of this contagious illness.”

Responding to the lawsuit, the health department said it published the letters sent to families in order to “clear up any confusion” caused by individuals spreading “misinformation” on social media.

“Unfortunately, some individuals, including the attorney who filed the lawsuit, have taken to social media to spread misinformation as part of their litigation strategy,” the health department said. 

“It is unfortunate when social media is used as a weapon for misinformation to advance litigation agendas and to undermine our mission to protect public health.”

Like schools in many other states, Assumption Academy normally allows vaccine exemptions for religious beliefs.

Jerome Kunkel told the outlet it is “devastating” that he has been barred from school, particularly because he cannot participate in basketball games.

"The fact that I can't finish my senior year in basketball, like, our last couple of games, it's pretty devastating,” Kunkel told WLWT5. “I mean, you go through four years of high school playing basketball; you look forward to your senior year.”

The lawsuit comes amid a renewed debate on vaccines, as several communities nationwide are seeing measles outbreaks in “anti-vaxxer” enclaves.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed 228 cases of measles in 12 states so far this year, as of last week.

-- Updated at 1:23 p.m.