Minnesota is experiencing a record outbreak of measles. Most of the infected are unvaccinated and live in the tight-knit Somali-American community. As of Thursday, 41 cases were reported and 11 children had been hospitalized. The contagion is the largest in Minnesota since 1990, when 460 people got measles and three died.
Many parents in the Somali-American community have been advised by anti-vaccine activists that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine causes autism. The anti-vaxxers gained entry to the community in 2008 when some parents were researching the MMR and invited the activists to speak.
After literature was handed out at local meetings, Somalis connected with Andrew Wakefield. Wakefield is the father of the anti-vaxxer movement and was invited to speak at least three times in 2010 and 2011. Lynn Bahta, a state health department nurse, described an intensity to the gatherings. She noted that in 2011, armed guards prevented her and other health department officials from entering.
The impact of the anti-vaccine groups’ influence is traceable to vaccine rates. According to the Health Department, 92% of Somali-American toddlers had the MMR vaccine in 2004. By 2008, the immunization rate fell to 70%. And in 2017, only 42% of the Somali-American toddlers received shots. The decrease continued even though a 2010 University of Minnesota study – comparing the rate of autism in 7- to 9-year-olds in Minneapolis – found no statistical difference between autism in Somali children and white children.
Wakefield authored a study published in the British Medical Journal 15 years ago. He claimed that 8 children developed “regressive autism” after getting vaccines to prevent mumps and rubella. The study was later retracted and in 2011, Wakefield’s medical license was revoked for “serious professional misconduct.”
“The Somalis had decided themselves that they were particularly concerned,” Wakefield told the Post. “I was responding to that.” Wakefield added, “I don’t feel responsible at all.”