Health and Medicine

Anti-Vax Teen Who Sued School Over Chickenpox Ban Gets Infected With Chickenpox


James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

clockMay 9 2019, 13:59 UTC

Chickenpox is caused by the varicella zoster virus and results in skin rash that comes up as itchy fluid-filled blisters. 9Gawin/ Shutterstock

A teenager who sued his school after being excluded for not being vaccinated against chickenpox has come down with chickenpox.


After an outbreak of chickenpox in a high school in Kentucky in March, the Northern Kentucky Health Department banned students from attending class unless they could prove they were vaccinated or immune to the disease. 

Jerome Kunkel made headlines earlier this year after he sued the Kentucky Health Department over the issue, having been told by his Catholic school that he couldn't play basketball for the school team as a result of the policy.

Kunkel's family object to vaccines on moral grounds. His father said at the time that the decision was "tyranny against our religion, our faith, our country".

“He’s being penalized because he’s a healthy child,” Bill Kunkel told the Seattle Times. “He may not ever get chickenpox.”


He now has chickenpox.

His lawyer Christopher Wiest told NBC News that Kunkel started showing signs of the disease last week, and hopes to have recovered by next week. Chickenpox usually lasts around 10-14 days.

Once he is no longer contagious and can show that his lesions have scabbed over, he will be able to return to school, Kentucky's Cabinet for Health and Family Services told NBC. He hasn't attended school since March 15.


However, the family doesn't regret the decision, saying they do not want to be vaccinated on religious grounds due to some vaccines being derived from legally aborted fetal cells, which they called immoral and sinful.

"These are deeply held religious beliefs, they're sincerely held beliefs," their attorney told NBC. "From their perspective, they always recognized they were running the risk of getting it, and they were OK with it."

"The ban was stupid," he added. "He could have contracted this in March and been back to school by now."


Whilst it may seem unfair that Kunkel has missed school only to come down with chickenpox later on, the ban was about the safety of the community rather than any one individual.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends against deliberately exposing children to chickenpox through "chickenpox parties", which is an outdated way of attempting to manage the virus, before the much safer vaccine was invented. The chicken pox vaccine was introduced in the 1990s, so many parents will have grown up without it themselves, and be under the impression if these "parties" worked for them, it will work for their children – as if modern medicine doesn't make breakthroughs. 

"CDC strongly recommends against hosting or participating in these events," the CDC says. "Chickenpox can be serious and can lead to severe complications and death, even in healthy children." Two doses of the vaccine is more than 90 percent effective at preventing chickenpox.

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