Kentucky Student Sues Over ‘Aborted Fetus’ Chickenpox Vaccine

A student from a Kentucky school is suing the state health department over a mandate that he cannot be in school while there is an ongoing outbreak of chickenpox.

Jerome Kunkel, 18, attends Our Lady of the Sacred Heart/Assumption Academy in Walton, Kentucky. He is the captain of the school’s basketball team.

Recently, the school has faced a major outbreak of chickenpox, with 32 students confirmed to have the highly contagious virus. As a result, the Health Department issued a statement on March 14 announcing that people who were not vaccinated or already immune to the virus (as a result of previous infection) cannot attend school or extra curricular activities “until 21 days after the onset of rash for the last ill student or staff member.”

This may seem like a reasonable action to prevent a further spread of the illness, but Kunkel and his family disagree. They contend, in a lawsuit filed in Boone County Circuit Court, that to be vaccinated would go against Kunkel’s religious beliefs because, “the use of any vaccine that is derived from aborted fetal cells is immoral, illegal, and sinful.” As a result they believe this is basically the health department trying to force Kunkel to get vaccinated.

Kunkel has also gone on record saying he is personally upset that he cannot attend his basketball games, reportedly saying: “The fact that I can’t finish my senior year in basketball, like, our last couple of games, it’s pretty devastating.”

The lawsuit contends that several other parents also feel this goes against their religious beliefs, though so far no names of other supporters have been provided.

Let’s correct the misinformation here first: The use of existing fetal-derived cell lines is approved by the FDA and therefore is not illegal. It is categorically untrue to say otherwise.

However, to understand this lawsuit and the issue it raises, it is important to understand what link there is between fetal tissue and the chickenpox vaccine.

Is Today’s Chicken Pox Vaccine Really Derived from Aborted Fetal Tissue?

The short answer is: absolutely not. The longer answer is slightly more complex but in no way negates that fact.

Several vaccines that protect us against major diseases use what are known as fetal-derived cell lines, and companies have manufactured them for several decades. Unlike bacteria, which can grow perfectly well in correctly-managed cultures from a variety of sources, viruses need human cells in which to inhabit and grow.

The same is true for the varicella/chickenpox vaccine, which is a de-fanged “live” vaccine. Sometimes vaccines can be manufactured via the use of tumor cell lines. In the varicella vaccine’s case, however, and like many other live vaccines currently in use today, the vaccine uses fetal cell lines that were initially created from one of two legally-aborted fetuses from the 1960s.

The first thing to note here is that in no way is the chickenpox vaccine based on fetal cells, which is what this lawsuit appears to be implying. It is fudging that “derived from” and “containing” are the same thing—they are not.

Secondly, the fetal-derived cell lines that are in use today are not the same cell lines that were used 50 years ago. They are descendants of those cells, and no new aborted tissue has been harvested since that time. Again, they are not, nor were they ever, going to be anything resembling a fetus let alone a child, and will carry only a small handful of remnant DNA from those original cells.

Thirdly, and perhaps most damning for this lawsuit, the Catholic Church, which has staunchly opposed abortion, does not oppose fetal cell-derived vaccines. Why? Because, while it believes that abortion is wrong, it sees an overwhelming benefit to these vaccines that, though not negating that belief, put the original “moral evil” in perspective. These fetuses were aborted decades ago, and using them to create vaccines was not the intended reason. There is, therefore, good coming out of an event the Church does not look favorably upon.

Father Tad Pacholczyk, Director of Education The National Catholic Bioethics Center, wrote in a 2005 essay that, while recipients should be told whether a vaccine is fetal cell-derived, “The Pontifical Academy of Life document reaches a different conclusion, namely, that even when a vaccine is made from aborted material, and when no other form of that vaccine exists, parents may indeed vaccinate their children. In fact, in many instances, parents should feel a strong obligation to do so, considering the gravity and severity of the diseases involved.”

Other Catholic leaders agree with the necessity of vaccine. They say that, while it is important to press for alternatives to human cell-derived vaccines, parents who get their children vaccinated should not feel they are tacitly supporting abortion by doing so.

Does this Lawsuit Have Legs?

With these considerations in play it appears that the religious argument is, at very best, debatable. Of course, the tricky thing with religious belief is that it is down to the individual, so when we talk about the Church’s official position on something it does not preclude individuals from breaking away with their own ideas on what is “sinful”.

However, this does put in perspective that this anti-vaccine stance is not a widely-held religious belief.

At any rate, the lawsuit will have to rely on whether the Health Department had a reasonable justification in preventing Kunkel and other students from going to school if unvaccinated.

A complicating factor is that Kentucky reportedly grants vaccination exemptions on religious grounds if a student has provided a sworn statement, which Mr Kunkel says he did last year. However, an outbreak scenario is much different from general day-to-day schooling and therefore might allow for extraordinary action by the Health Department. These facts and more will have to be adjudicated in court.

Related at Care2

Photo credit: Getty Images.


Melisa B
Melisa B14 days ago

thanks for posting

Debra Tate
Debra Tate17 days ago

Thank you

Dan Blossfeld
Dan B19 days ago

You too Susanne. I do enjoy a good discourse, especially opposing views, which can be quite enlightening.

Susanne R
Susanne R19 days ago

Thank you for the star, Dan. One has been sent your way as well.

Susanne R
Susanne R19 days ago

Thank you, Dan. I found the following summary point (obviously provided by researchers in the U.K.) in the National Center for Biotechnology Information report you referenced to be very interesting:

"Do we wish to start a vaccination programme that will disadvantage the middle aged and elderly but that will benefit our grandchildren - our children will presumably mostly have had chickenpox already? One approach to minimise this middle aged and elderly increase in shingles would be to vaccinate, say, all 60 year olds at about the time that their grandchildren are being vaccinated? Similar approaches have been shown to be effective.

Why are we waiting? The answer is that in the United Kingdom we are, as is our characteristic communal disposition, being cautious and waiting to see what happens in the USA and in Japan (where vaccination is also routine)

Luckily for them, the citizens of the U.K. have government-sponsored universal healthcare. Citizens who develop shingles or severe cases of chicken pox that require follow-up my specialists, like my son did, don't have to worry about receiving medical attention. I wish that was true for everyone in this country. I'm grateful every day for the health care coverage I receive thanks to Medicare and the supplemental plan provided by my former employer. I'm also grateful that my children and grandchildren have health care coverage as well. All children should.

Dan B
Dan B19 days ago

Regarding shingles, the experts estimate a 30-50% increase in the disease among the unvaccinated chicken pox population (i.e those born before 1991), until the entire population of unvaccinated has expired. Afterwards, the incidence of the disease is expected to subside.

Other countries (i.e. England) are still weighing the effects of childhood chickpox immunization.

Susanne R
Susanne R19 days ago

Sarah Hill - (Continued...)

"In fact, children who receive a chickenpox vaccination have a much lower risk of getting shingles later in life than those who are not immunized, said Dr. William Schaffner, doctor of preventative medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, and a leading infectious disease expert."

Ask any adult who's suffered through the agony of shingles if they would turn back the hands of time in order to be vaccinated against chicken pox.

Susanne R
Susanne R19 days ago

Sarah Hill: Although my daughter's case of chicken pox wasn't too serious, I can't say the same for my son. The lesions formed on the outside and inside of his eyelids, hampering his ability to see. They covered his lips and formed inside his mouth. They covered his ears and developed inside his ear canals. I counted hundreds of lesions on his little body before I realized it was an exercise in futility (he was about 4 years old), which means he didn't have a patch of skin that wasn't affected. He slept only intermittently for days because the the intense itching and the pain from the pressure of lying on the lesions woke him up. He lost weight and had to be evaluated by an ophthalmologist and an ear, nose and throat specialist once he was no longer contagious. And keeping him from scratching himself raw and leaving pock marks on his delicate skin was a major effort. Needless to say, I didn't sleep for days. He wore clean white socks on his hands --even though we were going through a very hot summer-- to keep him from scratching and/or infecting his lesions. Chicken pox is not just a minor virus for everyone.

And here's an important issue that seems to have been forgotten: SHINGLES. According to Live Science: "In fact, children who receive a chickenpox vaccination have a much lower risk of getting shingles later in life than those who are not immunized, said Dr. William Schaffner, doctor of preventative medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Cent

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill20 days ago

Chicken Pox is a very minor virus. We all had it as children. In fact, parents used to have “Chicken Pox parties “. Whenever someone ‘s child came down with it, everyone got the kids together so they got it over with. I have also had measles and mumps too. All are minor. No real reason to vaccinate against them.

Annabel Bedini
Annabel Bedini20 days ago

Dan B
I have been out of internet range for a couple of days and now I'm back to find you both still debating this question. One thing strikes me, Dan, and that is how your focus has changed. Your original post says 'Banning a healthy person for three weeks, because the school has a problem is ridiculous. There already have s problem. If he gets sick, what does it change. It seems that more and more, schools are more interested in their own welfare than that of the students.' Now you and Susanne are discussing the legal and religious ins and outs of the question. That makes me wonder, has Susanne, with a little help from me perhaps, shown you that the health authorities were in fact justified in banning the boy from school?