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Unvaccinated Teen Who Sued After Being Banned From School Contracts Chickenpox

Jerome Kunkel had refused to get the chickenpox vaccine on religious grounds. His attorney has called the ban "unconstitutional."

A Kentucky teenager who filed a lawsuit after being banned from school activities for refusing to get the chickenpox vaccine has contracted the disease, his attorney said.

Jerome Kunkel, 18, whose lawsuit against the Northern Kentucky Health Department in March was rejected by a circuit judge last month, first showed signs of the disease last week. He returned to school on Wednesday, his attorney Christopher Wiest said.

“We knew that that was going to happen,” Wiest told HuffPost of Kunkel contracting the highly contagious disease that often provides immunity after contraction. “We knew that the ban was going to do nothing except spread this incident out over months instead of weeks.”

Kunkel had cited a religious exemption for not receiving the vaccine after chickenpox broke out at his Catholic school, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart School and Assumption Academy, in Walton earlier this year. 

Jerome Kunkel, 18, filed a lawsuit against the Northern Kentucky Health Department after he was banned from attending sc
Jerome Kunkel, 18, filed a lawsuit against the Northern Kentucky Health Department after he was banned from attending school activities because he wasn't vaccinated for chickenpox.

The Varicella zoster vaccine, which is administered to prevent the chickenpox virus, was derived from the cell lines of two fetuses that were aborted in the 1960s. The use of aborted fetuses is immoral and goes against his religious beliefs, Kunkel argued.

This view is shared by the majority of Kunkel’s school, where 82 percent of the students or their parents have appealed for a religious exemption from being vaccinated, Wiest stated in his appeal to a judge.

Asked how Kunkel may have contracted the disease, Wiest said he believes the high school senior got it from church activities, which he was not banned from attending.

“A week and a half ago he helped serve mass and I have no doubt that through that is where he contracted it,” he said. About half of the 24 students that Wiest said he is representing from Kunkel’s school have also contracted the disease over the last couple weeks, he added.

The Varicella zoster vaccine prevents more than 3.5 million cases of chickenpox each year in the U.S., as well as 9,000 hospi
The Varicella zoster vaccine prevents more than 3.5 million cases of chickenpox each year in the U.S., as well as 9,000 hospitalizations, and 100 deaths, the CDC says.

“Nobody died, there were no complications,” he said while sharing his view that the ban was meaningless since it didn’t stop all interactions where transmission is likely.

“It’s not just unconstitutional, it was also just stupid,” he said.

Had Kunkel, who has been out of school since March 15, been allowed to attend classes and his extracurricular activities amid the outbreak, Wiest argued that he would have contracted the disease long ago and been done with it.

The Northern Kentucky Health Department in a statement on Wednesday called Wiest’s encouragement to have the disease spread “alarming and disappointing.”

“Wiest’s comments are dismissive of the severity of this virus, and his recent announcement that he is advising his clients to actively contract the virus so that they can become individually immune to it is deeply concerning to the Northern Kentucky Health Department,” the department said in a statement.

Encouraging the spread of an acute infectious disease in a community demonstrates a callous disregard for the health and safety of friends, family, neighbors, and unsuspecting members of the general public. Northern Kentucky Health Department

It reasoned that though those who contract and survive the disease are likely to gain future immunity to it, they may also spread it to others who are more vulnerable to it, including infants, adolescents, pregnant women and individuals with weakened immune systems.

“Encouraging the spread of an acute infectious disease in a community demonstrates a callous disregard for the health and safety of friends, family, neighbors, and unsuspecting members of the general public,” the statement continued.

It takes about two weeks for someone to develop chickenpox after exposure. They become contagious to others one to two days before a rash appears and until all of the lesions have scabbed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Each year the vaccine prevents more than 3.5 million cases, 9,000 hospitalizations, and 100 deaths in the U.S., the CDC says.

“Chickenpox can be serious and can lead to severe complications and death, even in healthy children,” the health agency’s website warns. “There is no way to tell in advance how severe your child’s symptoms will be. So it is not worth taking the chance of exposing your child to someone with the disease.”

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