FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin said in a radio interview that he deliberately exposed his children to chickenpox so they would catch the highly contagious disease and become immune.
During a Tuesday interview on Bowling Green radio station WKCT, Bevin said his children were "miserable for a few days" after contracting chickenpox but said "they all turned out fine."
"Every single one of my kids had the chickenpox," Bevin said in the interview. "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."
Bevin and his wife, Glenna, have nine children, four adopted.
Public health authorities strongly discourage the practice of deliberately exposing children to chickenpox, a medical expert said Wednesday.
"It's unfortunate and not an example for any of us," said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.
"We should vaccinate all our children. It's a great triumph of public health in the United States. Let's not take a step backward," he added in a phone interview.
Bevin's office did not immediately respond to an email request for additional comment Wednesday. Bevin is seeking a second term as governor in this year's statewide elections in Kentucky.
The Republican governor said Tuesday that parents worried about chickenpox should have their children vaccinated. But he suggested that government shouldn't mandate the vaccination.
"Why are we forcing kids to get it?" Bevin said in the interview. "If you are worried about your child getting chickenpox or whatever else, vaccinate your child. ... And in many instances, those vaccinations make great sense. But for some people, and for some parents, for some reason they choose otherwise."
Kentucky requires that children entering kindergarten be vaccinated for chickenpox, but parents may seek religious exemptions or provide proof that a child already had the disease.
Bevin's comments followed reports this week of a chickenpox outbreak at a Kentucky Catholic school.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends two doses of chickenpox vaccine for children, adolescents and adults who have never had chickenpox and were never vaccinated, according to its website. Children are routinely recommended to receive the first dose at 12 through 15 months old and a second dose at 4 to 6 years old, it said.
"What the governor and other like-minded folks are unaware of is that there are potentially serious complications of chickenpox," Schaffner said.
Complications from chickenpox can include bacterial infections, pneumonia and encephalitis — inflammation of the brain, according to the CDC. Complications aren't common in healthy people with the disease, it says, but high risk groups for complications due to a serious case of chickenpox can include infants, adolescents, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems.