Buying Into Anti-Vaxxing Myths, Minnesota Somali Community Causes Measles Outbreak

In yet another display showing that vaccination against measles is a necessary action for American society, a measles outbreak in Minnesota has now spread to 48 confirmed measles cases in Hennepin, Ramsey and Crow Wing counties.

Of the 48 cases, 46 are children ten and younger; 41 of whom are Somali-American who were not vaccinated. The outbreak is Minnesota’s largest in over two decades. According Kristen Ehresmann, director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention and Control Division at the Minnesota Department of Health, the outbreak began in a Somali community; she added, "I want to be very clear that this outbreak has nothing to do with being Somali. It's just the sheer fact of being unvaccinated."

Ehresmann said the Minnesota Somali community bought into the fears that vaccines cause autism, and thus eschewed getting vaccines for their children.

But side effects from vaccines are rare; no evidence exists that vaccines cause autism. In 2008, according to Ehresmann, parents noticed a disproportionate number of Somali children receiving special education services for autism in Minneapolis. She added, "At that point, the anti-vaccine groups just really started targeting the community.”

Michael Osterholm, regents professor and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and a former state epidemiologist for Minnesota, pointed out, "Between 2000 and roughly 2008, the Somali community in Minnesota actually had some of the highest vaccination rates for 2-year-olds of any population in the state.”

A measles outbreak struck the Somali community in Minnesota in 2011.

Ehresmann said, "Measles finds unvaccinated people, and this outbreak has two key points. One is the effect of targeted misinformation on a vulnerable community, but the other is that if you're not vaccinated, you are vulnerable… Measles is a serious disease. You can have pneumonia and dehydration ... and people do die from measles, so we take it very seriously.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says measles "is so contagious that if one person has it, 90% of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected."


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