An unvaccinated teenager who was banned from his high school because he did not have immunity from the chickenpox has since contracted the infection, which his father said is “the best thing to do” to become immune.
Jerome Kunkle, 18, had sued the Northern Kentucky Health Department in March after they barred any students who did not have the chickenpox vaccine or had previously developed the disease, and were therefore immune, from attending Assumption Academy, a Catholic school where an outbreak of the chickenpox had spread to 32 students.
Kunkle claimed that the ban on unvaccinated students has kept him from enjoying his final games on the basketball team and was a violation of his first amendment rights, according to local NBC affiliate WLWT.
Students without proof of vaccination or proof of immunity against the illness were instructed not to attend school until 21 days after the onset of rash.
Kunkle likely developed the chickenpox in April, his father Bill told The Washington Post, after a visit from his cousins, who had the infection at the time.
Bill told WLWT that his son is not vaccinated because it goes against the family’s religious beliefs.
“I don’t believe in that vaccine at all and they are trying to push it on us,” he said. “The chickenpox vaccine is derived from aborted fetuses. And, of course, as Christians, we’re against abortion.”
According to the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania, the vaccine is made by “growing the viruses in fetal embryo fibroblast cells,” which are the cells used to hold skin and connective tissue together. Those cells were first obtained from two aborted pregnancies in the early 1960s, though those same cells have continued to grow in a lab and are used to make the vaccines used today.
The National Catholic Bioethics Center also notes on its website that “one is morally free to use the vaccines regardless of its historical association with abortion” because “the risk to public health, if one chooses not to vaccinate, outweighs the legitimate concern about the origins of the vaccine.”
Jerome’s lawyer, Chris Wiest, told the Post that the Health Department’s ban was not a viable option, as the students restricted from school still attend the attached church. About two dozen other students joined in on the lawsuit, and many have since contracted the chickenpox as well.
“This is a stupid ban that’s never going to work, and absolutely ridiculous in this context where they go to church upstairs every day together,” Wiest said. “We are not at all surprised. This is exactly what we told the court would happen. Over half my clients contracted chickenpox and had no complications, and now they have a lifetime immunity.”
The Health Department warned against this idea that spreading the infection to others for immunity — known as “chickenpox parties” — is extremely dangerous.
“This is clearly not appropriate medical advice, according to physicians and infectious disease experts,” they said in a statement. “Chickenpox, also known as varicella, is an acute infectious disease. When introduced in an unvaccinated population, the virus can rapidly spread, causing serious, even deadly consequences, to people who are particularly at risk, such as infants, adolescents, pregnant women, and adults and children with weakened immune systems, including those receiving cancer treatment.”
The Centers for Disease Control have the same stance.
“It is not worth taking the chance of exposing your child to someone with the disease,” according to the CDC. “The best way to protect infants and children against chickenpox is to get them vaccinated.”
A judge ruled against Jerome in mid-April, but he has appealed.
Now that Jerome is back at school, he will have to take tests “just about every day until school is over” to catch up, his father told the Post. He also had to miss basketball, including a playoff game where they lost by one point.
His father said that two days of the chickenpox was not worth missing school.
“He had a couple days of misery, but after that he was pretty good,” Bill said. “He itched a lot. He didn’t die. Isn’t that amazing?”
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