The Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA) released a news release this week after learning of Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin’s statement about deliberately exposing his children to chickenpox. First, what  Gov. Bevin said:

“Every single one of my kids had the chickenpox,” Bevin said in an interview with WKCT, a Bowling Green talk radio station. “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.”

The IDSA statement:

This pustulovesicular rash represents a generalized herpes outbreak due to the Varicella-zoster virus (VZV) pathogen/CDC
This pustulovesicular rash represents a generalized herpes outbreak due to the Varicella-zoster virus (VZV) pathogen/CDC

The Kentucky governor’s decision this week to voice support for the irresponsible practice of deliberately exposing children to chickenpox as an alternative to vaccination is gravely concerning. The stance that Gov. Bevin defended, of a student filing suit against the Kentucky health department’s vaccination requirements, highlights urgent needs for public education on the value of medical immunizations, and for policies allowing exemptions only on the basis of medical contraindications.

Events in recent weeks also demonstrate consequences of vaccine avoidance, as a mumps outbreak at Temple University in Pennsylvania continues to spread, prompting the offer of free immunizations there.  And, as six U.S. health departments battle ongoing measles outbreaks that put our country on a course to exceed last year’s case count of a deadly and preventable disease, recognition that vaccines are among the most important public health tools we have remains essential.

Vaccinations are critical to protecting not only the health of those receiving them, but also the health of those contraindicated from receiving them, including children who are too young or immunocompromised individuals, who depend on the protection of “herd” immunity provided by high community vaccination rates. The Infectious Diseases Society of America, the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, the HIV Medicine Association, and the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America remain committed to advancing policies, practices and strong public health programs toward ensuring full vaccine access and coverage.