Student who refused chickenpox vaccine sues Kentucky health department for banning him from school

"The fact that I can't finish my senior year in basketball, like, our last couple of games, it's pretty devastating," the student said.

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By Elisha Fieldstadt

A Northern Kentucky student is suing the local health department after he was told he couldn't come to school or play sports because he hasn't received the chickenpox vaccine amid an outbreak at the school.

Jerome Kunkel, 18, is suing the Northern Kentucky Health Department and its employees because the department said students who haven't been vaccinated need to stay out of school until three weeks after the onset of a chickenpox rash on the last sick student or teacher, the department said.

But Kunkel's father said the family's Christian faith keeps his son from getting vaccinated.

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“I don't believe in that vaccine at all and they are trying to push it on us,” Bill Kunkle said, according to NBC affiliate WLWT.

The health department announced the policy Feb. 21 in a letter to parents, citing an outbreak of chickenpox at the school.

It first warned parents of the outbreak Feb. 5, urging them to get their children vaccinated. By March 14, the school had 32 cases of confirmed chickenpox, according to the health department.

"The recent actions taken by the Northern Kentucky Health Department regarding the chickenpox outbreak at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart/Assumption Academy was in direct response to a public health threat and was an appropriate and necessary response to prevent further spread of this contagious illness," the health department said in a statement in response to Kunkel's lawsuit.

The school's sporting events were also canceled until the 21 days after the last sickened student or teacher presents a rash.

"The fact that I can't finish my senior year in basketball, like, our last couple of games, it's pretty devastating. I mean, you go through four years of high school playing basketball, you look forward to your senior year," Kunkle told WLWT.

The symptom of chickenpox, also known as varicella, is characterized by a blister-like rash and can be especially dangerous for babies, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems, according to the Northern Kentucky Health Department. The virus can be spread by contact and through the air.