The Kentucky governor said this week that he intentionally exposed his children to chickenpox to “make sure” they contracted the virus and became immune — a practice the federal government starkly warns against.
“Every single one of my kids had the chickenpox,” Gov. Matt Bevin said Tuesday on radio station WKCT, according to the Associated Press. “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.”
Per the Courier-Journal, Bevin, 52, has nine children: The youngest is 5 and the oldest is 16.
While Bevin said his kids “were miserable for a few days,” they “all turned out fine.”
Bevin, a Republican, linked his own practices with chickenpox to the broader use of vaccinations on children.
“Why are we forcing kids to get it [the chickenpox vaccine]?” he said. “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. This is America. The federal government should not be forcing this upon people. They just shouldn’t.”
The chickenpox vaccine is required for kids enrolling in kindergarten in Kentucky, the Courier-Journal reports. But exemptions are made on religious grounds or if the child has been previously infected.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two doses of chickenpox vaccine is more than 90 percent effective.
“When you get vaccinated, you protect yourself and others in your family and community,” the CDC advises. “This protection is especially important for people who cannot get vaccinated, such as those with weakened immune systems, or pregnant women.”
The CDC cautions against so-called “chickenpox parties” — a strategy similar to the one practiced by Gov. Bevin of “intentionally expos[ing] their unvaccinated children to a child with chickenpox in hopes that they would get the disease.”
Contracting the chickenpox once usually confers lifetime immunity afterward.
But, warns the CDC: “Chickenpox can be serious and can lead to severe complications and death, even in healthy children. There is no way to tell in advance how severe your child’s symptoms will be. So it is not worth taking the chance of exposing your child to someone with the disease.”
Instead, vaccines are the best approach.
In the words of Dr. Robert Jacobson, a pediatrician who spoke with the Courier-Journal: “We’re no longer living in the 17th century. I really recommend to my parents that they vaccinate their children, that they do it in a timely manner, and they recognize they are doing the right thing for their children.”
While chickenpox usually lasts no more than a week without severe symptoms, that is not always the case.
“On more than one occasion, I have had a patient who is a pregnant woman who became exposed to chickenpox and became ill and developed pneumonia,” Dr. Ruth Carrico told the Courier-Journal. “Either she or her baby or both did not survive.”
A spokeswoman for Bevin did not respond to a request for comment.