WALTON, KENTUCKY — Last January, there was a chicken pox outbreak at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart School and Assumption Academy. Making matters worse, 90 percent of students at the religiously conservative Catholic school had vaccine exemptions for religious reasons.
Responding to the outbreak, the health department ordered that unvaccinated students stay home from school for at least 21 days after the last chicken pox case ran its course. That’s when 18-year-old Jerome Kunkel sued the school, saying he was being discriminated against for his religious beliefs that compel him to reject the chicken pox vaccine. As the Cincinnati Enquirer points out, many conservative Catholics oppose the vaccine because it was developed in the 1960s from cells that originated from two aborted fetuses. Kunkel’s suit was ultimately unsuccessful.
Now, according his attorney, Kunkel as the chicken pox.
“He’s fine. He’s a little itchy,” his attorney Christopher Wiest said.
Now that Kunkel has contracted the illness, he’s immune, which will clear him to return to school when his lesions heal — a fact that his attorney is using as vindication for his actions.
“The ban was stupid, He could have contracted this in March and been back to school by now,” Weist said, adding that he told the the parents of other students contesting the ban that “the quickest path to resolving this is having them contract chickenpox.”
According to NBC News, health officials are lashing out at Weist, saying he’s “downplaying the dangers of chicken pox.”
“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,” Laura Brinson of the Northern Kentucky Health Department said in a statement.
Around the same time the school was grappling with the outbreak, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin publicly took a page straight out of the anti-vaccine movement’s playbook, saying that instead of getting his kids vaccinated against the chicken pox, he sent them to neighbors whose children were already infected to expose them to the virus.
“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,” Bevins said during an interview with a local radio station. “They had it as children. They were miserable for a few days, and they all turned out fine.”
Bevin also questioned mandatory vaccination laws which require children to be up to date on their required vaccinations before entering school.
“Why are we forcing kids to get it?” he asked. “If you are worried about your child getting chickenpox or whatever else, vaccinate your child. 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.”
Chicken pox is usually a mild disease, but there can be serious complications, which include bacterial infections of the skin and soft tissues in children, lung infections, infections or inflammation of the brain, and hemorrhaging.
Featured image: screen grab/NBC News