Anti-Vax Teen Who Sued School Over Ban Now Has Chickenpox -- & Doesn't See the Irony

Jerome Kunkel sits in a suit and tie, interviewed by ABC News.
ABC News/YouTube

The vaccine debate continues to rage on, especially after a rash of recent measles outbreaks have affected multiple US towns and cities. In response to what's being called a serious public health crisis, some local governments and schools have even taken the drastic measure of banning unvaccinated adults and children from public facilities -- which has not exactly gone over well with anti-vaxxers.

Take Jerome Kunkel, an 18-year-old teen from Kentucky, who was barred from his school during a chickenpox outbreak because he was unvaccinated. Kunkel turned around and promptly sued the Northern Kentucky Health Department. But now, his lawyer has shared an interesting update: The teen just contracted the disease.

  • Kunkel, a senior at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Assumption Academy, was never vaccinated for the disease and refused to be, on religious grounds.

    Kunkel's refusal had to do with the fact that the original vaccine, created in the 1960s, was made using the cells of aborted fetuses. However, even though no future vaccines were created this way, the Kunkels are said to consider any vaccine derived from it "immoral, illegal and sinful,” according to the lawsuit. 

    "As a Catholic we believe that abortion is wrong, morally wrong," Kunkel reiterated to ABC News last month. "And so, the vaccine is derived from aborted fetal cells ... that obviously goes against that."

    (For what it's worth, the Vatican's Academy for Life has actually come out in support of parents vaccinating their children for chickenpox, but some ultraconservative Catholics continue to uphold their stance.)

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  • "These are deeply held religious beliefs, they're sincerely held beliefs," family attorney Christopher Wiest told NBC News

    "From their perspective, they always recognized they were running the risk of getting it, and they were OK with it," West continued.

    Now that Kunkel has contracted the illness, he isn't changing his stance -- though he does hope to be back at school soon, once he's fully recovered.

    The ban was first implemented on March 14, by the Northern Kentucky Health Department, after 32 cases affected more than 100 students at the school.

    Despite Kunkel's challenge in court, a judge upheld the ban, and he has yet to return to school.

  • In case you're thinking this recent bout of chickenpox has made Kunkel change his tune ... not quite.

    "The ban was stupid," Wiest said, presumably echoing the sentiments of his teen client. "He could have contracted this in March and been back to school by now."

    Kunkel told WLWT that despite being absent from school for nearly two months, "Thing are somewhat normal." Well, "except ... for [the] homework I got to catch up with," he added.

    As for how soon he can return to class, Doug Hogan, a spokesman for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, says that as soon as the chickenpox lesions are "scabbed over," Kunkel is allowed to return, because he'll then be considered immune to the disease.

  • However, local health officials aren't taking the matter lightly, 

    NBC News reports that state health officials lashed out at Wiest in particular for "downplaying the dangers of the chickenpox." 

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

    It's a concern that's growing throughout the US, as areas such as Rockland County in New York continue to battle things like the measles, which was once considered eradicated, thanks to the vaccine. But it's not just a problem in the States. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), preliminary global data shows that the number of reported cases of measles rose by 300 percent in 2019. (And that's just so far.) 

    Health officials continue to urge parents to consider the risks for both their own children and the public at by not vaccinating, though the LA Times reports that the online anti-vaxx movement has become so vicious, it's "terrorized" some doctors into silence.

    In the end, “Nothing educates like the virus,” said Dr. Paul Offit, a Philadelphia pediatrician who writes about vaccine misinformation. “Nothing educates like outbreaks.”

    Sadly, that statement is all too true.