Teen who refused chickenpox vaccine sues after being barred from school activities


Walton, Ky. — In northern Kentucky, an outbreak of more than 30 cases of chickenpox prompted health officials to ban unvaccinated students from the school. Now one student's family is suing for religious reasons.

Students at Assumption Academy went to school on Wednesday, but Jerome Kunkel stayed home again.

"I'm missing the next two weeks. That's what the health department says, that I'm not allowed to go to school," he said.

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Jerome, a senior on the basketball team, has refused to get vaccinated on religious grounds, despite a chickenpox outbreak at his Catholic school.

"It's derived from aborted fetal cells. And as a Catholic, we do not believe in abortion. We believe it is morally wrong and it would go against my conscience," he said.

The chickenpox vaccine relies on cell lines from two fetuses aborted in the 1960s. No further abortions were involved in continuing those lines and the Vatican has given the vaccine its blessing.

The northern Kentucky Health Department has banned unvaccinated students until the outbreak can be contained. That could be up to three weeks after the last case is diagnosed. Bill Kunkel, Jerome's dad, thinks that's ridiculous.

"They act as tyrants," he said.

So the Kunkels are suing. Jerome, they argue, is a victim of government overreach. But pediatrician Christopher Bolling said the vaccines are necessary for public health.

"Before the vaccine was around, hundreds of people would die yearly," Bolling said.