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An unvaccinated high school student just got banned from going to school

The 18-year-old senior objects to the chickenpox vaccine for religious reasons

by Emma Ockerman
Apr 3 2019, 3:20pm

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A Kentucky judge ruled Tuesday to block a Kentucky high school student from going to class, since he won’t get vaccinated for chickenpox.

Jerome Kunkel, an 18-year-old senior at Assumption Academy, a K-12 Catholic school in northern Kentucky, sued his local board of health after it barred students without the vaccine from attending school and extracurricular activities last month, according to USA Today.

Kunkel’s lawyer, Christopher Wiest, told the Cincinnati Enquirer that the teen was “devastated” by Boone County Circuit Judge James Schrand’s ruling, and argued the ban wasn’t effective in containing an outbreak that started last month. The lawyer who represented the local health department, Jeff Mando, told the paper the judge’s decision “upheld the health department’s mission to protect public health and the welfare of folks in Northern Kentucky.”

About 30 students at Assumption Academy have been blocked from attending school during the ban, including Kunkel, because about 32 students have been diagnosed with chickenpox since early February. Evidence presented in court Monday showed about 18 percent of the school’s students were vaccinated, according to the Enquirer, compared to a vaccination rate of 90 percent statewide. Kunkel has not contracted chickenpox, however, according to the Washington Post, and he has legally refused vaccination on religious grounds.

Kunkel isn’t opposed to all vaccinations, but he objects to the chickenpox vaccine for religious reasons because it was developed in the 1960s using the cell lines of two fetuses obtained through elective, legal abortions.

Kunkel’s family has argued the ban represents religious retaliation and violates his First Amendment rights, and that it forced the teen to miss the last basketball game of his high school career. County health departments have broad power to institute quarantines during a disease outbreak as they see fit. The Northern Kentucky Health Department will allow students without proof of vaccination or immunity to return to school 21 days after the onset of chickenpox for the last sick student or staff member.

While every state requires that children get routine vaccinations, the majority of states also allow students to opt out for either religious or moral reasons.

The religious exemptions for vaccines have come under particular scrutiny since a measles outbreak started sweeping the U.S. Rockland County, New York, recently banned unvaccinated people from public spaces, upsetting some members of the Orthodox-Jewish community who have found the reaction the reaction to a recent measles outbreak discriminatory. A chickenpox outbreak in North Carolina last fall, the state's worst in decades, has been blamed on religious vaccine exemptions.

Cover: A syringe filled with water with a sticker for a vaccine against chickenpox in a doctor's office in Berlin, 4 March 2015. Photo by: Lukas Schulze/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images