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Old May 7th, 2017, 09:57 AM   #1
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Post Anti-vaccine activists spark a state’s worst measles outbreak in decades

Salah no longer believes that the MMR vaccine triggers autism, a discredited theory that spread rapidly through the local Somali community, fanned by meetings organized by anti-vaccine groups. The activists repeatedly invited Andrew Wakefield, the founder of the modern anti-vaccine movement, to talk to worried parents.

Immunization rates plummeted, and last month the first cases of measles appeared. Soon there was a full-blown outbreak, one of the starkest consequences of an intensifying anti-vaccine movement in the United States and around the world that has gained traction in part by targeting specific communities.

“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,” said Siman Nuurali, a Somali American clinician who coordinates the care of medically complex patients at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. “It’s abhorrent.”

Although extensive research has disproved any relationship between vaccines and autism, the fear has become entrenched in the community. “I don’t know if we will be able to dig out on our own,” Nuurali said.

Anti-vaccine activists defend their position and their role, saying they merely provided information to parents.

“The Somalis had decided themselves that they were particularly concerned,” Wakefield said last week. “I was responding to that.”

He maintained that he bears no fault for what is happening within the community. “I don’t feel responsible at all,” he said.

MMR vaccination rates among U.S.-born children of Somali descent used to be higher than among other children in Minnesota. But the rates plummeted from 92 percent in 2004 to 42 percent in 2014, state health department data shows, well below the threshold of 92 to 94 percent needed to protect a community against measles.

Wakefield, a British activist who now lives in Texas, visited Minneapolis at least three times in 2010 and 2011 to meet privately with Somali parents of autistic children, according to local anti-vaccine activists. Wakefield’s prominence stems from a 1998 study he authored that claimed to show a link between the vaccine and autism. The study was later identified as fraudulent and was retracted by the medical journal that published it, and his medical license was revoked.

The current outbreak was identified in early April. As of Friday, there were 44 cases, all but two occurring in people who were not vaccinated and all but one in children 10 or younger. Nearly all have been from the Somali American community in Hennepin County. A fourth of the patients have been hospitalized. Because of the dangerously low vaccination rates and the disease’s extreme infectiousness, more cases are expected in the weeks ahead.

Measles, which remains endemic in many parts of the world, was eliminated in the United States at the start of this century. It reappeared several years ago as more people — many wealthier, more educated and white — began refusing to vaccinate their children or delaying those shots.

The ramifications already have been significant. A 2014-2015 measles outbreak infected 147 people in seven states and spread to Mexico and Canada. In California, high school students were sent home because of infected classmates. One patient who was unknowingly infectious visited a hospital and exposed dozens of pregnant women and babies, including those in the neonatal intensive care unit. Another adult patient was hospitalized and on a breathing machine for three weeks.

Anti-vaccers put people's lives at risk.
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