Autism News Beat

An evidence-based resource for journalists

Autism News Beat header image 2

Measles outbreak at a glance

March 31st, 2011 · 5 Comments · Miseducation, Urban legend

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.

Over half of the measles cases in this month's outbreak have resulted in hospitalization.

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.



5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Norwegian Shooter // Mar 31, 2011 at 8:18 am

    Thanks for this excellent at a glance. I’m sharing it via FB. My 7-yo with autism is in St. Paul public schools and has a Somali girl in his class. I don’t know if she’s unvaccinated or not. I hope so.

    Do you think autism is called the “American disease” by immigrant Somalis because it is effectively hidden in Somali?

  • 2 autblog // Mar 31, 2011 at 8:33 am

    Thanks for your comment. I have a fully vaccinated 15-year-old with autistic disorder.

    A good argument can be made that autism is largely a social construct, defined by the limitations the community places on those with the disorder. In a developing country with scant medical resources, where most of the population is farming or living hand to mouth, most ASDs would rank pretty low on the list of daily concerns.

    I would question where the “American disease” claim comes from. Sounds like something one of Jenny’s angry mob made up. ; -)

  • 3 Steve Miles // Mar 31, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    There are now 8 hospitalizations in Minnesota among the 14 cases. My FB page will update the graph daily. Autism exists in Africa. There are, for example, special schools in Ethiopia and the Ivory Coast and in a prominent case a Somali boy with autism got bureaucratically hung up in Nairobi while emigrating to Canada.
    My FB page also has the email addresses of the irresponsible persons who are responsible for the MN measles outbreak.

  • 4 Chris // Apr 4, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    Mr. Coe, exactly how is measles, the MMR vaccine related to autism again? Is there some kind of evidence that does not include a retracted article describing twelve children?

    Can you remind us again what happened to Roald Dahl’s oldest child, Olivia? Do tell how she lost her voice after getting measles. We are anxious to learn from you.

  • 5 While people sicken, CBS reporter spreads antivax propaganda | Citizens against marijuana // Apr 5, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    […] 14 cases have popped up in Minnesota — cases which can apparently be traced almost directly to the dangerous antivax movement […]

Leave a Comment