Unvaccinated teen loses school ban lawsuit


Jerome (L) and Bill KunkelImage copyright
Bill Kunkel

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Mr Kunkel and his father

An unvaccinated Kentucky teenager has lost his legal effort to force health officials to allow him play basketball amid a disease outbreak.

Jerome Kunkel sued after students without chickenpox immunity were banned from playing sports or attending school, where 32 people were sickened.

A Kentucky judge sided with the health department, saying the 18-year-old does not have a right to play sports.

In a statement health officials said the decision is best for the community.

The Northern Kentucky Health Department said in a statement the ruling “underscores the critical need for Public Health Departments to preserve the safety of the entire community, and in particular the safety of those members of our community who are most susceptible to the dire consequences when a serious, infectious disease such as varicella [chickenpox], is left unabated and uncontrolled”.

Through a lawyer, Mr Kunkel said he was “devastated” by the ruling.

Mr Kunkel sued after health officials banned unvaccinated students from attending Our Lady of the Sacred Heart/Assumption Academy in Walton, Kentucky after at least 32 pupils were sickened there.

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The teen argued that this particular vaccination goes against his religious beliefs, because aborted cells were used to derive the vaccine.

Some viruses used to make vaccines are grown with cells descended from matter that was sourced from two human foetuses electively aborted in the 1960s.

But no new human cells have been used since then to produce vaccines, according to health authorities and drug manufacturers.

The Catholic Church has told its members it is morally justifiable to use these vaccines, though it wants alternative treatments developed without “using cell lines of illicit origin”.

At the conclusion of the five-hour trial, the judge cited a document signed by the plaintiff’s family when they initially invoked their religious exemption.

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Getty Images

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The teenager says the ban violates his religious convictions

The form contained a warning: “This person may be subject to exclusion from school, group facilities or other programmes if the local and/or state public health authority advises exclusion as a disease control measure.”

During the case, it was revealed that only about 18% of the student body at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart/Assumption Academy had been vaccinated against childhood illnesses such as chickenpox.

The statewide vaccination rate for chickenpox is 90%, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

The ban, which was initiated on 14 March, came just as the school’s basketball team was about to play in a statewide basketball playoff tournament.

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