Measles Outbreak in the Somali Community Continues to Grow

An outbreak that started with two brothers and their friend grew to 20 confirmed measles cases in Minneapolis. All the victims of the outbreak come from the Somali community and were not vaccinated. Health officials are tracing the outbreak back to one unvaccinated child who travelled outside the country.

Minnesota Department of Health infectious disease director, Kris Ehersman said, “”This outbreak has nothing to do with being Somali. It is absolutely an outbreak that is driven by unvaccinated children and that is what the source is.”

Measles is a serious disease that can lead to death. Symptoms include a high fever, cough, runny nose and watery eyes followed by a rash that typically spreads from head to the rest of the body. It is highly contagious and spreads easily by coughing, sneezing or even being in the same room with someone who has measles.

Measles was eradicated in the US back in 2000 and all measles cases since then were linked to international travel. Random cases are reported around the country but are almost always linked to international travel. The last outbreak in Minnesota was in 2001.

Before 2008, the vaccination rate among Somalis was considered to be slightly higher than national average. Sometime around 2008, a rumor in the community suggested that the MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccination is linked to autism and since then the vaccination rate among Somali children started dropping. There has been extensive research done and there is no link between MMR vaccine and autism.

MIAMI, FL – MAY 16: A bottle of measles vaccination is seen at Miami Children’s Hospital on May 16, 2014 in Miami, Florida. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that cases of measles in the first four months of this year are the most any year since 1996, as they warned clinicians, parents and others to watch for the potentially deadly virus. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Andrew Wakefield, a British researcher, published a small study based on 12 people linking the MMR vaccine to autism. Wakefield has made several trips to Minnesota to speak to Somali parents including a trip in 2011 in the midst of the autism scare. That theory was proven wrong in hundreds of other studies which forced almost all of the other researchers to withdraw their name from the study except Wakefield. A higher than average diagnosis in Autism among Somali children sparked an outrage among parents who were looking for answers. Some suspected the MMR vaccine after hearing about Wakefield’s study and consequently a lot of Somali parents chose to reject the MMR vaccine. Today almost half of Somali children in Minnesota are in danger of contracting this horrible disease thanks to Wakefield and his unscientific, unethical and almost criminal study. He was stripped off his medical license and deemed “an elaborate fraud”. There is no scientific basis to his theory and thorough investigation suggests that Wakefield wanted to profit from the study by scaring people to use his MMR vaccination which he applied a patent for and never got.

Since 2008, the vaccination rate among Somali children dropped to 42 percent comparable to a national average of 86 percent. After the outbreak was reported in April 13, Somali parents have been keeping their children home from school and day care. Few took their kids in to get vaccinated but there some who are still unconvinced. Health officials have been trying to identify everyone who might have been in contact of any of the infected children.

The Somali community is continuously targeted by anti-vaccination groups which created the widespread scare that plagues the community today. The truth is that the science around vaccines is very settled. Vaccination is one of the major accomplishments in modern health and it saves 2-3 million lives every year. The truth is that the world wide eradication of several diseases is accredited to vaccines. Diseases like Polio and Small pox are nonexistent, thanks to vaccines.

Just like any other parent, Somali parents are very caring and want the best for the children. Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger said in a statement to MPR, “There are people of all backgrounds around the state who have chosen not to protect themselves or their children. Often that decision is based on good intentions and inaccurate information.” Ehlinger added that it was “the responsibility of all of us who care about the health of Minnesota children to make sure people have accurate information and take action to protect their families and their communities.”

Health officials are expecting more measles cases to be identified and are asking parents to be proactive in looking for symptoms. Symptoms of measles include runny nose, diarrhea, skin rash, pink eyes, fatigue, and loss of appetite. Health officials are also recommending children who got the first MMR vaccine to get the second shot before its scheduled date because of the outbreak

Just a few years ago, the Somali community had a 92 percent immunization rate and the autism scare changed that for the worst. It is important to understand the perspective of the Somali parent who had four normal children in Africa and the first child she had in the US has been diagnosed with autism. As a community newspaper, we do want to emphasize the importance of vaccinating children and the search to find the autism culprit should continue but it’s time to let vaccines off the hook. It is possible that autism could be linked to a certain product/service but it is not vaccines. Let us get the vaccination rate among Somalis kids back to its golden years at the 92nd percentile inshallah.

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