Health experts in Minneapolis are pointing fingers at anti-vaccine activists who hosted information workshops in Somali immigrant communities for the state’s worst measles outbreak in decades.
There have been 41 cases of measles reported recently in Minnesota, according to the state’s department of health. Of those 41 cases, 34 are Somali Minnesotans.
The number of cases is alarming, considering in 2016 there were 70 people from 16 states who reported having measles, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
All but one of the infections involve children under the age of 10, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Most of the cases are in Hennepin County, with 38 confirmed measles infections.
Most of the infections are in children who were “unvaccinated,” according to the health department.
The highly contagious measles virus can spread through the air, especially after someone coughs or sneezes. Early measles symptoms include a fever, then a rash, but the infection can lead to the death.
Some critics have blamed the Quran and Muslim beliefs for the measles outbreak—but before the anti-vaxxers hosted meetings in the area, the vaccination rates in the Somali-Minnesotan community were actually higher than the general population.
Vaccination rates for Somali-Minnesotan children in 2004 were as high as 92%, a rate 3% higher than non-Somali children, according to the local paper, The Star Tribune. But the trend reversed by 2016, and vaccination rates for Somali 2-year-olds in Minnesota had fallen to just 42%.
Health experts say anti-vaccine groups organized “information meetings” in the Somali community and fanned fears of how vaccines could trigger autism.
The Washington Post’s Lena H. Sun reported Friday morning that “the advocates repeatedly invited Andrew Wakefield, the founder of the modern anti-vaccine movement, to talk to worried parents.”
Wakefield told the Post he didn’t feel responsible at all for the outbreak in the Somali community.
A local doctor said the actions by the anti-vaccine groups were abhorrent.
“It’s remarkable to come in and talk to a population that’s vulnerable and marginalized and who doesn’t necessarily have the capacity for advocacy for themselves, and to take advantage of that,” Siman Nuurali, a Somali American clinician at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, told the Post.