Why Minnesota's Measles Outbreak Could Get Even Worse
Somali-Americans avoiding vaccines due to unfounded fears of autism
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 5, 2017 1:35 PM CDT
A pediatrician holds a dose of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine at his practice in Northridge, Calif.   (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

(Newser) – The Minnesota Department of Health has identified 34 cases so far in a measles outbreak, with a University of Minnesota infectious disease expert worried it's leading to a "gas-and-match situation" that will result in more cases and possibly even deaths, NPR reports. What health officials are worried may help along the outbreak, so far mainly concentrated in Hennepin County: a fear among local Somali-Americans that the measles vaccine causes autism. Measles was declared eradicated in the US in 2000, but it's still brought into the country by travelers, spurring recent outbreaks. The current situation a tinderbox, per Kris Ehresmann, the director of the infectious disease unit of the state's health department, because measles is such a highly contagious disease that its presence in a community that often lives in congested quarters and fears the vaccine is a recipe for disaster.

Ehresmann says health officials are trying their best to step up outreach efforts, which includes sending representatives to appear on Somali TV and radio and in chatrooms, as well as involving local imams in the conversation. What may also help spread the word: community members who've come around to the health officials' way of seeing things. A young Somali mother in Minneapolis profiled in the Washington Post explains how her two young children got measles this spring, her 18-month-old hospitalized for four nights—and how she now plans to encourage others to get the vaccine, especially those who attend local anti-vax meetings. "Because when the kids get sick, it's going to affect everybody," she notes. (The first US measles death in a dozen years took place in 2015.)

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