Unvaccinated Northern Kentucky student in chickenpox case comes down with the illness

Updated: May. 8, 2019 at 2:09 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CINCINNATI, OH - The high school senior who went to court over a health-department restriction over chickenpox at his Walton school has come down with the illness, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Christopher Wiest of Covington said Jerome Kunkel, 18, got sick with chickenpox last week, nearly two months after the Northern Kentucky health department issued its order to control an outbreak at two small parochial schools in Boone County, according to our media partner at the Cincinnati Enquirer.

“He’s fine. He’s a little itchy,” Wiest said.

In January, chickenpox broke out at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart School and Assumption Academy, its high school. The schools and its church are affiliated with the Society of St. Pius X, a conservative branch of Roman Catholicism that rejects Vatican II reforms.

Nearly 90 percent of the schools’ students have religious exemptions against vaccinations. The exemption form warns that the health department can restrict school attendance in case of an infectious disease outbreak.

Kunkel and his classmates did not receive the chickenpox vaccine because it is made in laboratory-generated cells taken from a fetus aborted in London in 1966.

As the number of chickenpox cases grew at the schools, the health department restricted nonvaccinated and nonimmune students to prevent the spread. The department first prohibited participation in extracurricular activities, then on March 14 ordered those students to stay home from school until at least 21 days after the last case.

Kunkel, an Assumption senior, sued in Boone County Circuit Court, claiming the order is a violation of his constitutionally protected exercise of religion. Two dozen other students who also had been banned from school joined Kunkel’s case.

Chickenpox typically is a mild disease. But serious complications can occur, including bacterial infections of the skin and soft tissues, pneumonia or encephalitis (infection or inflammation of the brain), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Wiest noted during an April 1 hearing that the Sacred Heart community regularly celebrates Mass together and shares meals on Sundays, so attendance restrictions Would not prevent the spread of chickenpox.

Tuesday, Wiest said: “About half my clients have come down with it since we filed the case. … I flat-out told the moms and dads the quickest path to resolving this is having them contract chickenpox.” A bout with chickenpox confers immunity to the illness.

Judge James R. Schrand ruled against Kunkel, who appealed the decision. The Kentucky Court of Appeals has yet to rule in the matter. The school-attendance ban remains in effect.