Jerome Kunkel and his attorney, Christopher Wiest.
WLWT
  • The Kentucky teen who refused the chickenpox vaccine contracted the disease last month.
  • Jerome Kunkel refused the vaccine after the Northern Kentucky Health Department required that all students who attended his school get vaccinated, due to a February outbreak that affected more than 30 students.
  • Kunkel - unsuccessfully - sued the health department because he said receiving the vaccine violated his Catholic beliefs.
  • For more, go to Business Insider South Africa.

The Kentucky teen who refused to get the chickenpox vaccination - and sued his local health department after the agency wouldn't let him go to school or participate in extracurricular activities because of it - got the chickenpox.

As INSIDER previously reported, 18-year-old Jerome Kunkel, a senior at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Assumption Academy in Kentucky, argued that the Northern Kentucky Health Department violated his First Amendment rights because receiving the vaccination went against his Catholic beliefs.

In February, the health department barred unvaccinated students from attending school due to a chickenpox outbreak that had affected more than 30 students. Jerome was especially distraught because the ban meant he couldn't participate in his school basketball team's playoff game, The Washington Post reported at the time.

The judge sided with health officials, according to WLWT. And now, in the latest turn of events, the teen caught a case of the chickenpox.

Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus and with symptoms including an itchy, blister-like rash that can spread across the entire body. At worst, chickenpox can lead to serious complications including bacterial infections of the skin, pneumonia, and inflammation of the brain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the disease used to be extremely common in the US, those numbers decreased significantly after the vaccine became available in 1995 - with the mortality rate dropping 94%.

Kunkel first started showing chickenpox symptoms last month, his father, Bill Kunkel, told The Washington Post. On Monday, he attended class for the first time since March 14, due to the immunity he now has from contracting the illness.

But Kunkel and his family still believe they made the right call, NBC News reported.

"These are deeply held religious beliefs, they're sincerely held beliefs," the family's lawyer Christopher Wiest told NBC News. "From their perspective, they always recognised they were running the risk of getting it, and they were OK with it."

Wiest added that he believes the best way to combat chickenpox is by contracting the disease, to create immunity. The Northern Kentucky Health Department disagrees.

In a statement, the department described Wiest's decision to downplay "the dangers of the chickenpox virus" as "alarming" and "deeply concerning".

"While the tactic Wiest suggests may provide an individual with future immunity from chickenpox, this infected person can easily spread the virus to other, unsuspecting people, including those particularly vulnerable to this potentially life-threatening infection," the statement read.

Kunkel is now catching up on over two month's worth of school work, Bill Kunkel told The Post, adding that his son will need to take tests "just about every day until school is over".

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