Kentucky Teen Sues Health Department Over Chickenpox Vaccine Requirement

Kentucky teen Jerome Kunkel is suing Kentucky's Health Department.
Jerome Kunkel has refused to be vaccinated against chickenpox. CBS News

A Kentucky teenager has filed a lawsuit over his high school banning students who haven't been vaccinated against chickenpox.

Jerome Kunkel, 18, said his religious beliefs prevent him from getting the vaccine. A chickenpox outbreak in the northern part of his state prompted health officials to ban unvaccinated students from class.

"I'm missing the next two weeks," the high school senior told CBS News. "That's what the health department says, that I'm not allowed to go to school."

He and his family said their Roman Catholic beliefs prevent him from getting the vaccine because "it's derived from aborted fetal cells."

"As a Catholic, we do not believe in abortion," he said. "We believe it is morally wrong and it would go against my conscience."

Some Catholics object to the fact that some vaccines were derived from two aborted fetuses in the 1960s. but the National Catholic Bioethics Center has ruled that church members may get today's vaccines, which are far removed from the earlier serums, because of the health risks posed by not vaccinating.

The Northern Kentucky Health Department announced that all students not vaccinated are not allowed to attend class until 21 days after the onset of rash for the last student or staff who've contracted chickenpox. An outbreak at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart/Assumption Academy, where Kunkel attends high school, has affected 32 people.

The senior said he is also upset that not going to school means he will miss the rest of basketball season. He is on the school's team.

He and his family filed a lawsuit last week against the health department, saying the vaccine was being forced upon them in violation of their faith.

"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 infectious illness," the department said in a statement.

Chickenpox "can be a very serious illness that is especially dangerous for infants and pregnant women or anyone who has a weakened immune system," the statement said. 

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