A Northern Kentucky teen who was banned from attending his school because he refused to get vaccinated for the chickenpox is now infected with the virus. Jerome Kunkel refused to get vaccinated for the chickenpox after an outbreak of the virus began at his school. Last month the teen unsuccessfully attempted to sue the Northern Kentucky Health Department for prohibiting him from playing basketball.
An attorney for Jerome Kunkel told NBC News that his client started showing symptoms of the virus last week. In a statement to NBC, attorney Christopher Wiest said the teen hopes to go back to school next week.
When asked if the teen regretted not getting the vaccine, Wiest said
“These are deeply held religious beliefs, they’re sincerely held beliefs. From their perspective, they always recognized they were running the risk of getting it, and they were OK with it.”
Due to Kunkel’s refusal of the vaccine, he has not attended school since March 2019. An outbreak of the chickenpox began at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Assumption Academy in February. After the outbreak began, the health department mandated that all unvaccinated students must stay home.
Kunkel, a senior at the school, attempted to sue the health department for banning him from school. The teen said his religious beliefs prevented him from receiving the vaccine. His family believes that chickenpox vaccines contain aborted fetal cells.
In the lawsuit, Kunkel alleged that his religious belief against abortion prevented him from receiving a vaccine containing aborted fetal cells. A judge dismissed his case against the health department in April.
Despite his belief, the chickenpox vaccine does not contain any aborted fetal cells. In the 1960s, the vaccine was developed by obtaining cell lines from two elective abortions. The cell lines have multiplied more than a trillion times, and vaccines given today contain no tissue from those abortions.
While some conservative Catholics refuse the vaccines, the Catholic Church states that members can receive the vaccination.
After Kunkel’s chickenpox start to scab over, his attorney says he can return to school. Individuals that contract the chickenpox develop lifetime immunity to the disease. Sacred Heart Assumption Academy will only permit students to return if they receive the vaccination or can show they are immune to the disease.
Kunkel will meet the requirements to return as soon as he recovers from the virus. Wiest called the ban from school “stupid” in a comment to NBC. He said that Kunkel should have been allowed to contract the virus in March so the teen didn’t have to miss school.
While the attorney downplayed the severity of the chickenpox virus, public health officials in Kentucky lashed out.
“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,” according to a statement by Laura Brinson, a spokeswoman for the Northern Kentucky Health Department.
Severe complications of the chickenpox include bacterial infections of the skin, pneumonia, swelling of the brain, bloodstream infections, dehydration, and death. Deaths associated with the chickenpox are rare due to the vaccination program. However, otherwise, healthy unvaccinated adults and children have died from the virus.
Even though Kunkel will be immune to the chickenpox, he will run the risk of developing shingles later in life. The chickenpox virus can lay dormant in the body and cause a painful virus years later.
Individuals that receive the vaccination for chickenpox do not run the risk of developing shingles. Hopefully, Kunkel does not contract the painful infection years down the road.
*Katie Joy is a columnist and hosts Without A Crystal Ball on Patheos Non-Religious Channel. She writes articles on parenting, disability advocacy, debunking pseudoscience, atheism, and crimes against women and children.
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