Kentucky’s governor is being criticized for the health decisions he has made for his kids after he told a radio show that he intentionally exposed all nine of them to chickenpox, believing it would make them immune.
Matt Bevin, a Republican, told Bowling Green radio station WKCT on Tuesday about how he exposed his kids to the disease, which manifests as an itchy rash on sufferers’ bodies.
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“They got the chickenpox on purpose because we found a neighbour that had it, and I went and made sure every one of my kids was exposed to it, and they got it,” he told the station, as recounted by the Louisville Courier-Journal.
“They were miserable for a few days, and they all turned out fine.”
Bevin went on to say that government should refrain from mandating that parents vaccinate their kids.
“If you are worried about your child getting chickenpox or whatever else, vaccinate your child,” he said.
“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.”
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Chickenpox, or varicella, used to be a common illness in the U.S., infecting an average of 4 million people each year in the early 1990s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
A vaccine to protect against chickenpox became available in 1995, and now, over 3.5 million cases are prevented every year, the CDC added.
Canada, meanwhile, saw as many as 350,000 chickenpox cases before a vaccine emerged, according to the federal government.
Assessing immunization programs is difficult, it added, but a publicly-funded vaccine program started in the Great White North in 2004.
Data from around that time showed chickenpox-related hospitalizations falling from 288 between 1999 and 2004, to 114 between 2005 and 2009.
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The CDC does not recommend “chickenpox parties” — attempts to expose unvaccinated kids to the disease in the hope that they’ll contract it and become immune that way.
The disease, it said, can be “serious and can lead to severe complications and death, even in healthy children.”
“So it is not worth taking the chance of exposing your child to someone with the disease,” the CDC said.
Bevin’s remarks on WKCT suggest he’s misinformed about chickenpox, Steven Teutsch, adjunct professor of healthy policy and management at the University of California at Los Angeles, told The Washington Post.
“It’s a public health hazard,” he said.
“One of the things that we worry about is that you know people who think these things — you’re on a slippery slope that leaves the kids and the population vulnerable.”
Bevin didn’t respond to requests for comment from the Post or the Courier-Journal.
Robert Jacobson of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. said it’s “just dangerous” to expose your kids to chickenpox, the Courier-Journal reported.
He recommended that parents have their children vaccinated.
“We’re no longer living in the 17th century,” Jacobson said.
“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.”