Ky. teen who refused chickenpox vaccine suing health department

Family cites their Christian faith

By MADISON PARK, CNN
Alex Wong/Getty Images

(CNN) - A Kentucky student is suing his local health department after it barred students who aren't immunized against the chickenpox from attending school and canceled extracurricular activities during an outbreak that has affected 32 people.

Jerome Kunkel, a senior at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart/Assumption Academy in Walton, Kentucky, refuses to get the chickenpox vaccine, citing his Christian faith, reported CNN affiliate WLWT. He and his father allege that he's being discriminated against because of religious beliefs.

Last week, the Northern Kentucky Health Department announced that all students at the school who don't have "proof of vaccination or proof of immunity against chickenpox will not be allowed to attend school until 21 days after the onset of rash for the last ill student or staff member."

This also affects the school's sports and extracurricular activities, which have been canceled to avoid spreading the illness to other schools and places.

Jerome Kunkel told the station that he's upset over the health department's decision, especially because it affects his basketball season.

"The fact that I can't finish my senior year of basketball, like our last couple games is pretty devastating. I mean you go through four years of high school, playing basketball, but you look forward to your senior year," he said.

Chickenpox is a very contagious disease that causes a blister-like rash, itching, tiredness and fever, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can spread by touching or breathing in virus particles. It can be especially serious for babies, pregnant women and people with weakened immune system.

In response to Kunkel's lawsuit, the health department stated: "The recent actions taken by the Northern Kentucky Health Department regarding the chickenpox outbreak at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart/Assumption Academy was in direct response to a public health threat and was an appropriate and necessary response to prevent further spread of this contagious illness."

Bill Kunkel, Jerome's father told WLWT, that he doesn't believe in the chickenpox vaccine and that "they're trying to push it on us." He told the station that they object to the particular vaccine because he believed it was derived from "aborted fetuses."

"And of course, we're as Christians, we're against abortion," Kunkel said.

The chickenpox vaccine is not derived from aborted fetuses. There are a number of vaccines made in descendent cells of aborted fetuses dating back several decades, according to the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

"Since that time the cell lines have grown independently. It is important to note that descendent cells are not the cells of the aborted child. They never, themselves, formed a part of the victim's body," according to the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

Some Catholics worry about vaccines derived from cell lines associated with abortion and this question worked its way up to the church's Pontifical Academy for Life.

"One is morally free to use the vaccine regardless of its historical association with abortion. The reason is that the risk to public health, if one chooses not to vaccinate, outweighs the legitimate concern about the origins of the vaccine," according to the National Catholic Bioethics Center, which derives its messages from the teachings of the Catholic Church. "This is especially important for parents, who have a moral obligation to protect the life and health of their children and those around them."

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