Health officials are responding to the worst outbreak of measles in 30 years in Minnesota. Nearly all of the infected a Somali children. Minnesota has the largest Somali community in the United States. Since April 11, Minnesota has reported at least 44 confirmed cases of measles, constituting the biggest such outbreak so far in the U.S. this year.
Eleven patients were hospitalized as of May 4. All of the patients, except one, are children under the age of 10 years. Most are under 5. The sole exception is an adult health care work. Nearly all were unvaccinated. And nearly all are Somali and localized in Hennepin County.
The sometimes fatal disease, which leaves survivors with scars, and blindness in some cases, was deemed eradicated in the U.S. in 2000. Measles causes fever, watery eyes, and red skin rash. However, since then there have been widespread reports and rumors about the supposed connection of inoculation to autism that have convinced some parents to abstain from the life-preserving vaccine for their themselves and their children.
Even though health professionals in Minnesota are battling the disease, it is expected to advance.
Previously, measles outbreaks have shown up in tight-knit communities elsewhere, such as Orthodox Jews in California and New York, and Amish in Ohio. Southern California suburbs have also seen an uptick.
In the Somali-American community in Minnesota, unsubstantiated concern that autism has become more common among them has caused a plummeting compliance with vaccination, not only for measles, but also for mumps and rubella. In 2004, about 92 percent of toddlers born in Minnesota to Somali women received the vaccine. However, by 2008, only 70 percent of toddlers were vaccinated, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. This year, that figure has dropped to but 42 percent.
ONLY THE BEST! Minnesota: “The outbreak started among Somali Minnesotans who have a low vaccination rate ..." https://t.co/PgrEZI7pQn
Despite numerous scientific studies that show that vaccines do not cause autism, so-called “anti-vaccers” -- those opposed to vaccination -- have continued to broadcast perceived links between autism and vaccines. Anti-vaccine activists repeatedly invited Andrew Wakefield, the British founder of the modern anti-vaccine movement to talk privately with worried parents in Minnesota at least three times in 2010 and 2011. A study Wakefield published in 1988, that claimed to demonstrate a link between the vaccine and autism, has been discredited. His medical license was subsequently revoked.
At a recent public meeting in Minnesota, anti-vaccine activist Mark Blaxill drew cheers and applause from the audience after he played down the threat of measles and spoke about local autism rates. His adult daughter has been diagnosed with autism. Physicians who were on hand to present the scientific angle expressed alarm that vaccination should be subjected to autism claims, especially during an outbreak of measles.
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D) represents the eastern half of Hennepin County. He was the first Muslim to take a seat in the House of Representatives and currently serves as co-chairman of the Democratic Party.