An unvaccinated teenager in northern Kentucky banned from his school after he refused to get the chickenpox vaccine has contracted the childhood disease, it was reported Wednesday.
Eighteen-year-old Jerome Kunkel, a student at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Assumption Academy, began showing symptoms for chickenpox last week, a lawyer for the family told NBC News. Kunkel hopes to recover by next week.
Kunkel's family - who oppose vaccinations on religious grounds - filed a lawsuit against the health department, saying the ban infringed on their son's First Amendment rights. About two dozen other students joined in the lawsuit since it was filed. Many of those people also had religious exemptions against vaccinations and have since become infected with chickenpox over the past two months. The Northern Kentucky Health Department barred students from attending school who did not have proof of vaccination or immunity against chickenpox after an outbreak infected 32 students back on March 14.
A judge ruled against Kunkel's family, and the 18-year-old was unable to return to school. However, the family says they have no regrets.
"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."
Weist said that if federal health officials didn't intervene, Kunkel would have contracted the disease much earlier.
"The ban was stupid," Wiest said. "He could have contracted this in March and been back to school by now."
The Northern Kentucky Health Department said in a statement that Weist advising his clients to contract the disease in order to become immune is "deeply concerning."
"Wiest’s comments are dismissive of the severity of this virus, and his recent announcement that he is advising his clients to actively contract the virus so that they can become individually immune to it is deeply concerning to the Northern Kentucky Health Department," the statement read.
"This is clearly not appropriate medical advice, according to physicians and infectious disease experts. Chickenpox, also known as varicella, is an acute infectious disease. When introduced in an unvaccinated population, the virus can rapidly spread, causing serious, even deadly consequences, to people who are particularly at risk, such as infants, adolescents, pregnant women, and adults and children with weakened immune systems, including those receiving cancer treatment.
"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."