Kentucky Teen Who Refused the Chickenpox Vaccination Gets the Chickenpox

Kentucky Teen Who Refused the Chickenpox Vaccination Gets the Chickenpox May 8, 2019

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.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the chickenpox is a highly contagious virus that causes itchy, blister-like rashes on individuals. Typically, the rash starts on the chest or back and spreads around the body. Most people will develop 250-500 painful blisters.

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.

She co-hosts the YouTube show, “The Smoking Nun,” with Kyle Curtis on The Non-Sequitur Channel. The show airs weekly and tackles pseudoscience, current events, and crime stories.

Communicate with Katie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Merchandise available at Teespring.

Buy Katie Joy a cup of Coffee. 

Buy Me a Coffee at

Individuals wishing to help Katie with her expenses can become patrons. Patrons gain exclusive access to stories, new projects, and future books.



"CBD is pretty awesome, but it does not -- I repeat, DOES NOT -- cure ..."

Parents Who Denied Cancer Treatment for ..."
"On the witness stand, Joshua McAdams appeared defiant and irritated with the Assitant Attorney General ..."

Parents Who Denied Cancer Treatment for ..."
"“I don’t think I could ever be comfortable just fully putting these things into my ..."

Parents Who Denied Cancer Treatment for ..."
"I really hate the producers of these shows. They subject mentally ill women to emotional ..."

Amber Portwood’s Daughter Leah Has Devastating ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

    I usually try not to be nasty, but I *swear* I hope the chicken pox makes the kid end up sterile…we don’t need another generation of him.

  • I wonder if he would get the shingles vaccine when he gets older?

  • Jane Dough™ 86#45w/25!

    i’m sure he thinks that one contains aborted babies, too…

    so, hopefully not.

    i have heard that shingles is *horribly* painful…
    i’ve had the shingrix™ shots because i had the chicken pox long before there was a vaccine.

  • Chris Hogue

    Stupid isn’t hereditary, but he’d have 18 years to ingrain it.

  • It is my grandmother had shingles. I also received the shingles vaccine was I had chicken pox 25 years before the vaccine.

  • wondering

    I’ve had shingles. I’m an atheist but I was praying for death it hurt so bad. And that was before the high fever caused a bleed in my brain that led to a stroke. I’m much better now but can’t wait til I’m 50 and can get the shingles vaccine so I never suffer like that again.

  • Brian Davis

    I hope it was as miserable for him as it was for me when I got it at 19. Having a temp of 103 for a week was a great weight loss plan.

  • Carra McClelland

    I got chicken pox at 5 (I predate the vaccine) and shingles at 8. Chicken pox sucked because of the itching and fever, but shingles was a whole different level of bad. I had it on my knee, so highly mobile area of my body and I had a blister bigger than my kneecap. I had to have a dressing change on it 4 times a day at school and that was a new level of hell every time.

  • frostysnowman

    My dad developed shingles while he was dying from cancer. It was unbearably painful for him.

  • WallofSleep

    No kidding. I had it when I was 16, and ate a grand total of two hotdogs in a week and a half. I had it everywhere, too. Even in my esophagus. The doctors were concerned that it would spread to my lungs and punch my ticket, so to speak.

  • JEKinTX

    You can be foolish with science but without it you can be even much more foolish.

  • Friend

    To amplify, there is a shingles vaccine for people 50 years of age and older. This CDC link gives info about the two vaccines:

  • WallofSleep

    I’ve only got to wait another two years, and I’m definitely getting that vaccine. I once met a man who lost the use of his hand due to the nerve damage he incurred from a bout of shingles.

  • LimeGecko


  • LimeGecko


  • WallofSleep

    Yeah, it’s no joke. Since it’s a form of herpes, it lies in your nerves. If you get shingles on your face, especially near your eyes, you could be in danger of going blind.

  • persephone

    My mom got shingles in her 30s. There really shouldn’t be an age limit. She was so miserable. And then someone told her that if the rash makes a full band around your body you’re going to die.

    Fun times.

  • persephone

    I think my mother said that it was the worst thing she ever endured, healthwise.

  • Atrus

    I don’t hope any major complications happen because of it, but I do hope that its miserable enough that he’ll change his mind on vaccinations. Unlikely that it would be severe enough without major issues, but I can hope.

  • Atrus

    I would think that after getting it early once that they could move getting it up if you asked for it. Maybe there’s another reason they wouldn’t do it before 50, but i’d at least ask.

  • markr1957

    Why are these ‘sincerely held beliefs’ given any credence at all by anyone, especially when they can be demonstrated to be based on lies, falsehoods and bad informations?

  • Friend


  • wondering

    I did. They won’t til I’m 50. 3 years to go.

  • WallofSleep

    Hang in there, and hope for the best.

  • paradoctor

    How do you define sincerity? And why privilege it over hypocrisy?

  • I’m getting the shingles vaccination next week. Mild sticker shock when the pharmacist told me the price (>$100 CDN), but a bargain compared to getting shingles.

  • Nos482

    RUN Point.EXE
    RUN Laugh.EXE

  • 24CaratHooligan

    It’s been many years since I read the bible (I get flashbacks) but can anyone tell me exactly where it says “thou shalt not get vaccinated”?

  • Dale McGowan

    The full band thing is a common misconception.

  • markr1957

    Degree of sincerity of belief shouldn’t matter when your belief is factually and provably wrong.

  • Knitting Cat Lady

    I hope he gets blisters on his balls and gets caught scratching by his mother.

  • My husband developed the shingles that was set off by stress when he was 38. The shingles was so painful that it sent shocks and searing pain down his nerves. He missed more than a week of work and could barely sit up. Ten years later he still has scars from the how the virus spread from his chest to his back. The marks were hard to take care of, blistered and needed to be cleaned to avoid infection

  • for the family it’s about the “aborted cells” they believe are in the vaccine.

  • phatkhat

    Which puts the lie to the claim it is a “harmless” childhood disease. Those of us old enough to remember having all those diseases before the vaccines can tell you they are NOT harmless. I didn’t have a bad case of chicken pox – I was 5 or 6, I think. I have a few scars from especially bad lesions, but other than the itching, it wasn’t a bad case. The measles almost killed me, though, and mumps left my hearing impaired.

  • gemini bowie

    Hopefully, shingles is in his future.

  • it’s my understanding that once you contract chicken pox, you are protected from it, but if you come in contact with someone who has never had Chicken pox, they can pick it up from you. And yes, you can get shingles (and they are painful, as they engage the nerves), and if you get them around your face you can go blind. I know an older couple who did just that.

    It’s the gift that keeps on giving. And yes, I did finally get my shingles shot. It’s unpleasant, but i’d rather have than that shingles.

  • When small pox viruses first were tried in the early 18th century, many people were sure they would catch the disease from the shots. It was only after several people were willingly vaccinated and survived that other people relented. Small Pox was a truly dreaful disease, and as a kid I had to be vaccinated before I could go to school.

  • Contractions of Fate

    Ha ha!! that’s what happens when you shove your face in a bees’ nest without proper mesh protection! I DO hope he does not get shingles! So THIS is the Jerome Kunkel you and my Lord Ky-El (Host of Hosts) talked about on NonSeq Smoking Nun? ROFLMAO! Sorry, but the Schadenfreude is Strong with this one…


  • Catherine Spencer-Mills

    I wanted to get it, but in the US, my co-pay was over $300. Nope, crossing my fingers instead

  • towercam

    Wow, that’s what I call crippling religion! Whew!
    Let’s hope this is the stupidest thing Jerome ever does.
    May he become sane during his college time.

  • sweeks

    “When small pox vaccines first were tried…”
    FIFY 🙂

    BTW, the words “vaccine” and “vaccination” are derived from the Latin word for “cow” (“vacca”) because the first vaccinations were for smallpox using the virus that causes cowpox.

  • Ralph Meyer

    Another Kentucky dimwit. They must raise them dumb down there!

  • kerryberger

    Jerome Kunkel is a brainless dolt for refusing to comply with a vaccination. He is lucky he didn’t contract measles. There is so much misinformation put out by well-intentioned but unqualified people who spread false information that is endangering society by threatening public health. The parents of this teen should be held responsible for child negligence. I have no patience for such stupidity.

  • Boglify

    Religious moron.
    Sorry, that’s an insult to regular morons.

  • Blanche Quizno

    Is your mom a tree?

  • Blanche Quizno

    Even though chickenpox itself is rarely fatal, it opens the door to secondary infections (the way Reyes disease can be a complication once flu or cold is contracted), which can cause nerve damage, deafness, and other complications.

  • I’m probably protected from breaking out in chicken pox again, but the Varicella virus is still in my system in a dormant state. As the immune system ages the virus can reactivate and attack the nervous system, resulting in the extremely painful shingles lesions.

  • That’s a horrendous price difference, especially after you factor in the US/CDN exchange rate. You deserve a much more affordable health care system. 🙁

  • Catherine Spencer-Mills

    If I have my way, I will. I’m a one issue voter this election – Medicare for all

  • Terry Fitzgerald

    I thought trumptards were against education?

  • EllyR

    After I had the dubious honor of enduring weeks of relentless pain my blaze GP told me that there is a vaccine and that I was not supposed to get because I got chickenpox in childhood.

  • EllyR

    I heard that crossing the legs is a very cheap and effective contraceptive… but I have my doubts about crossing fingers and shingles!

  • 24CaratHooligan

    I don’t even know why someone would think there were aborted fetus cells in vaccines? Unless I’ve missed something…

  • Philip Buczko


  • Omnicrom

    Because Anti-Vaxxers, almost by definition, have no reason to tether themselves to the truth. If your goal is to convince someone something and that is untrue why bother with restraint?

    If the ultimate goal is conversion to your idea, not truth or harm reduction, just conversion, why wouldn’t you say Vaccines cause autism and are made by aborted fetuses and kill you and are a conspiracy by big pharma who are in bed with the liberal satanists being investigated by Q Anon? It’s really no different from religion in that respect.

  • therealcie

    I wish I could have been vaccinated for chicken pox. I got it in 1974, when I was 9 years old. Those damn pustules were on every inch of my body, and it’s my tendency to run high fevers. I pretty much spent the entire week soaking in vinegar baths to calm the itching and dry the pustules. I ended up with small, round scars all over my upper chest and upper arms which remain there to this day.

  • Jon Pierson

    I thought that Canada supplied that sort of thing free of charge at the point of delivery (like the UK NHS). I know Ireland (where I live) is different but I don’t understand why you’d have to pay in Canada, let alone C$300.

  • Rennyrij

    I wonder just how much of this can be laid at the door of Andrew Wakefield, the MMR anti-vaccine activist? I thought I had read that he had died, but it seems he’s still living. Really, how can he live with himself? Shouldn’t he be charged with something like “aggravated manslaughter” for the deaths of those who believed his admitted lies?

  • It’s my understanding that when Canada’s Medicare system was being set up, a compromise was made wherein medical care would be free but we would have to pay for prescriptions. There was recently some talk about making a group of essential medications free, but I haven’t heard anything on that lately.

    Some vaccinations are currently free where I live, including the annual flu vaccine.