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Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) turned heads this week after saying on a radio show that he had intentionally tried to get his children infected with chickenpox and that he did not support the state’s mandatory chickenpox vaccine.
Chickenpox is less deadly in children than adults, but public health experts say it is still important to get vaccinated to prevent a small number of deaths every year and protect others with weaker immune systems. As of 2012, some 36 states and the District required children to receive the chickenpox vaccine or have other evidence of immunity against chickenpox before starting school, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Seventeen, including Kentucky, allow parents to exempt their children for medical, religious or philosophical reasons.
“It’s a public health hazard,” said Steven Teutsch, an adjunct professor of health policy and management at the University of California at Los Angeles and a former officer at the CDC. “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.”