The Minnesota Department of Health has so far confirmed 14 cases of measles,
six eight of which have required hospitalization. All but one of the cases has been linked to an unvaccinated Somali child who picked up the disease during a trip to Kenya. MDH daily updates can be seen here.
Of the 14 cases, seven have been in Somali children- six of them were not vaccinated, one was not old enough for the shot. Several of the Somali parents told MDH they had avoided the vaccine out of fears their children would be at risk of autism. Those fears can be directly linked to anti-vaccine activists such as Andrew Wakefield, the disgraced UK physician who associated the MMR vaccine with autism in his discredited and fraudulent 1998 Lancet paper. Wakefield has visited the Minnesota Somalis three times since last December to spread more fear, uncertainty and doubt about the safety of vaccines. Most Somalis are dismissing him for the crackpot that he is. But enough have taken him seriously for measles to have gained a toehold in the community.
Wakefield tells anyone who will listen that autism rates are abnormally high among Somalis, a claim based on a deliberate misreading of a 2010 MDH study. A few caveats that Mr. Wakefield has conveniently skipped over, and won’t address. First, the MDH did not examine children or their medical records. They accepted the diagnoses — some by doctors, some by school evaluators — that admitted children to special education classes.
Second, the relative differences between Somali and non-Somali children decreased markedly over the 3-year study period, meaning that differences in administrative prevalence between Somali children relative to non-Somali children decreased in a short amount of time.
Then there’s this: the 0.93% to 1.54% prevalence for Somali children is high for 3-4 year olds. However, it’s not high if they were 6-11 year olds. In other words, it appears that Somali’s are diagnosed at a higher rate as 3-4 years olds, but by the time they are 6-11 their rate is no higher than for the rest of the population.
The MDH admits its conclusions are tentative, but anti-vaccine interest groups such as Jenny McCarthy’s Generation Rescue have seized on them to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt. As a result, Somali vaccination rates have plummeted, leading to an outbreak of measles that threatens Hennepin County and beyond.
Whatever the Koran says about bearing false witness doesn’t apply to Mr. Wakefield. Fortunately, most Somalis still know it’s wrong, and have refused to follow Mr. Wakefield down the anti-vaccine path. There’s still time for others in that community to do the same.