In a recent interview, Kentucky’s Governor Matt Bevin said that he supports parents who decide to vaccinate their children but also supports the right of parents to opt against vaccinating their children. He said he believes that such a decision should be left up to parents and not the government.1 2
Gov. Bevin said that he and his wife Glenna, who is a registered nurse, chose not to vaccinate their nine children against chickenpox (varicella), for example. “They got the chickenpox on purpose because we found a neighbor that had it and I went and made sure every one of my kids was exposed to it, and they got it. They had it as children. They were miserable for a few days, and they all turned out fine.”1 2
Chickenpox vaccine is one of the many vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and mandated by state governments throughout the United States.3 Gov. Bevin does not agree with these mandates. “If you are worried about your child getting chickenpox or whatever else, vaccinate your child. … But for some people, and for some parents, for some reason they choose otherwise,” he said.1 2
The CDC recommends two doses of chickenpox vaccine be given to children—the first dose at age 12 to 15 months and the second dose at age four to six years.3
According to the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), there are two live virus vaccines for chickenpox that are licensed to be given in the United States. These include Varivax (Varicella Virus Vaccine Live) and ProQuad (Measles Mumps Rubella Varicella Vaccine Live), manufactured by Merck & Co.4
Gov. Bevin’s comments came just days after a lawsuit was filed against the Northern Kentucky Health Department (NKHD) on behalf of 18-year-old Jerome Kunkel, a senior at a Catholic high school in Walton, KY. The NKHD barred Kunkel from playing basketball because he refused to get the chickenpox vaccine.5 Kunkel argues that the action by the NKHD violates his First Amendment rights. He refuses the chickenpox vaccine because he says it goes against his religious beliefs, as the vaccine contains “aborted fetal cells.”5
The Varivax product insert states that the virus used to produce the vaccine was “initially obtained from a child with wild-type varicella, then introduced into human embryonic lung cell cultures, adapted to and propagated in embryonic guinea pig cell cultures and finally propagated in human diploid cell cultures (WI-38). Further passage of the virus for varicella vaccine was performed at Merck Research Laboratories (MRL) in human diploid cell cultures (MRC-5) that were free of adventitious agents.”4
The Proquad product insert states that the virus used to produce the vaccine was “propagated in MRC-5 cells. MRC-5 cells are derived from a cell line that was developed in 1966 from lung tissue taken from a 14 week aborted fetus and contains viral antigens.”6
1 Bosman J. Remember Chickenpox Parties? Kentucky Governor Says He Let His 9 Children Get the Virus. The New York Times Mar. 21, 2019.
2 Yetter D, Loftus T. Bevin exposed his 9 kids to chickenpox, says vaccine not for everyone. Louisville Courier Journal Mar. 20, 2019.
3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chickenpox Vaccination: What Everyone Should Know. CDC.gov.
4 National Vaccine Information Center. Varicella Zoster (Chickenpox) Disease and Vaccine. NVIC.org.
5 de León C. Unvaccinated Student in Kentucky Sues After Being Barred From Playing Basketball. The New York Times Mar. 18, 2019.
6 NVIC. What is Measles Vaccine? NVIC.org.