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Current Minnesota measles outbreak linked to misplaced vaccination-autism fears

We’re now in the midst of a measles outbreak in Minnesota. As of last Friday, the Minnesota Department of Health had documented six cases of the illness in the state this year.

This is a troubling development. Since 2005, Minnesota had been averaging only about one case of measles a year.

According to a Health Department statement, “The likely source [of the current outbreak] is an infant who traveled to Kenya and returned in the beginning of February. Cases have ranged in age from nine months to four years. Two of the cases were too young to receive vaccine, three were of age but were not vaccinated, and one has unknown vaccine status. There have been four hospitalizations and no deaths.”

Sadly, as local media reported over the weekend, a major factor in the current measles outbreak in Minnesota is the misguided fear among some parents of a link between childhood vaccinations and autism.

As Minnesota Public Radio’s Lorna Benson reported,

Half of the cases so far have been in Somali children who were not immunized. Some Somali parents told the Health Department they didn’t vaccinate their kids because they were worried that they would develop autism.
There is no evidence to support that concern. But the fear, which was fueled by a debunked British study, has been a powerful deterrent against vaccination in the Somali community. …
It’s not known exactly how many Somali families are skipping the Measles, Mumps and Ruebella vaccine, also known as the MMR. But at the Axis Medical Center in Minneapolis, Dr. Abdirahman Mohamed estimates that as many as 70 percent of the Somalis he knows have not given their children the vaccine.
“Every family will tell you that ‘We’re not going to give our children the MMR. We’re afraid that they’re going to get autism,'” Mohamed said.

But, of course, it’s not just Somali parents who have bought into the scientifically disproven idea that the MMR vaccine causes autism. As the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported, measles is making a comeback in communities across the country — a trend that’s overwhelmingly due to parental fear of vaccinations.

Parental complacency is also partly responsible. Many parents shrug off measles as “just a minor kids’ illness.” They don’t realize that it can have serious health consequences. Although the vast majority of children recover from this respiratory illness, up to one in 20 children get pneumonia and about one in 1,000 develop encephalitis as a result of the infection. For every 1,000 children who come down with measles, one or two will die.

Before a vaccine was developed, measles caused some 450 Americans (mostly children) to die and another 1,000 to suffer permanent brain damage or deafness each year, according to the CDC. The disease continues to kill about 200,000 people annually around the world.

Measles is highly contagious, which is why the Minnesota Health Department is taking some aggressive steps to contain the current outbreak — and not just among the Somali community. Writes Maura Lerner in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

As part of the investigation, health officials have been tracking down people who may have been exposed to the infected children, and in some cases, asking families to keep their children home for three weeks if they’ve not been vaccinated. [State epidemiologist Dr. Ruth] Lynfield said it could take that long for an infected child to show symptoms, which include fever, cough, and a rash that spreads down from the scalp and through the body.
Typically, children get the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine at 12 months of age and a booster shot 3 to 5 years later. But Lynfield said that, because of the outbreak, the health department is now recommending that children get the booster shot only four weeks after the first one, to increase their immunity. The recommendation affects families in Hennepin County, and Somali families throughout the metropolitan area.

Let’s hope this current outbreak stops at six, but health officials told Lerner that they’re bracing for more cases.

FYI: The Hennepin County Immunization Services is holding two MMR vaccination clinics this week for people with and without health insurance. One is today, March 21, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Health Services building on Portland Ave. The other is Sunday, March 27, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Children’s Hospital. Immunizations are also available at all regularly scheduled Immunization Services walk-in clinics. You’ll find more information and directions here.

Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Ashley Benites on 03/21/2011 - 12:12 pm.

    Andrew Wakefield was in the Twin Cities in December, speaking at a Somali community event and spreading the outright lie that vaccines cause autism. He has actively encouraged the Somali community to avoid vaccination. Groups like Generation Rescue have attached themselves to the Somali community, warning them that vaccines cause autism. This measles outbreak, and any illnesses or death that result, can be laid squarely at their doorstep.

    Even more unbelievably, Andrew Wakefield is in the Twin Cities now, scheduled to speak at a Somali restaurant, to the community, about the dangers of vaccination.

  2. Submitted by Nancy Hokkanen on 03/21/2011 - 05:11 pm.

    The issue is not over. Please note: “CDC to Study Vaccines and Autism.”
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-kirby/cdc-to-study-vaccines-and_b_837360.html

    Corporate media may keep killing the messengers, but sadly children’s lab tests continue to show vaccine-strain measles in lesions lining their gastrointestinal tracts. Even in the land of Minnesota Not-So-Nice.

    If the vaccine administration bureaucracy was more receptive to postmarket consumer input, parents would feel less conflicted about vaccinating. Instead, vaccine policy stands at “one-size-fits-all” rather than tailoring schedules to individual physical tolerances, or providing treatment and aid for victims. Surely pharmaceutical companies could invest research time and money in vaccine injury study for prevention purposes.

    Also a false polarity is perpetuated that positions deaths and injuries from disease as somehow more tragic than deaths and injuries from vaccines. These are equal tragedies. No child deserves to be written off as collateral damage in the war on disease.

    Though blackballed here, vaccine injury stories are reported overseas:

    4 kids die after measles shots, drive stopped
    HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times
    Ahmedabad, March 16, 2011
    http://www.hindustantimes.com/4-kids-die-after-measles-shots-drive-stopped/Article1-674220.aspx

    Four infants died in western Gujarat’s Kutch on Wednesday and about five became critical within 15 minutes of their being administered the measles vaccine as part of a drive launched by the Gujarat government. The four who died were below one. Of the ones critical, all are below one and one is 16 months old.
    [snip]

    MEASLES VACCINE DEATHS IN THE PAST
    September 2010: Measles vaccine causes death of 9-month-old twin girls in Ghaziabad
    August 2010: Four infants die in Lucknow after getting a measles vaccine
    March 2010: Four die in Damoh in north Madhya Pradesh after tetanus and measles vaccinations
    April 2008: As many as four babies lost their lives soon after they were given measles vaccine shots in Tiruvallur in Tamil Nadu.

  3. Submitted by PJ Carroll on 03/21/2011 - 07:57 pm.

    Wow – seven kids get a treatable disease and health officials are “bracing” themselves.

    Meanwhile, one out of every 94 children in this country has autism – a devastating neurological disorder known in some cases to be caused by vaccines.

    And all the health “officials” are doing is calling for more vaccines. What has this world come to?

    I dream of the day when the suffering of the vaccine-injured gets the same level of media coverage as the suffering of those who just get sick. People will always get sick. No vaccine is going to save us from everything. But the vaccine manufacturers continue to rake in billions every year by scaring you into believing they will.

  4. Submitted by Ashley Benites on 03/22/2011 - 09:12 am.

    As someone who has been touched by autism, I find it reprehensible that the anti-vax camp has been successful in diverting precious–and I mean precious–dollars away from the search for the cause of autism to study a link that has been proved, time and time again, not to exist. We do families dealing with autism a disservice, bordering on criminal, by treading the same ground over and over again while the cause might be just around the corner. Who knows what we might have discovered by now. Who knows if not just the cause but also the cure might have been discovered.

    “Vaccine injury”–defined not by autism but by a negative physical reaction–is a reality in the same way that a horrific but rare reaction to a typical antibiotic is a reality. People have died because of bad reactions to all kinds of medicines used by millions of people every day. I venture to guess that despite thousands of people have been sickened by the use of antibiotics that you wouldn’t allow your child to skip that wonder drug if she were hospitalized with pneumonia or a staph infection.

    Thanks for the good reporting, Susan. We need more objective reporting on science. For too long, the media has added to this problem by giving equal time to people ill-acquainted with basic scientific principles.

  5. Submitted by Phil Dech on 03/24/2011 - 04:31 pm.

    “seven kids get a treatable disease” – There is no specific treatment for measles. None of the current antiviral medications are effective. Antibiotics, of course, do not treat viral illnesses. Certainly, supportive care is very good these days, but that does not make measles “treatable.”

    “autism – a devastating neurological disorder known in some cases to be caused by vaccines.” It has never been proven to be caused by a vaccine, in even a single case.

  6. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 03/26/2011 - 10:39 pm.

    “Corporate media may keep killing the messengers.”

    No, Nancy, the messengers are not getting killed. They are just being exposed for the frauds and liars they really are. Some people are getting killed though, and those are the children who are dying because their parents believed the kind of lies you continue to spout.

    “Meanwhile, one out of every 94 children in this country has autism – a devastating neurological disorder known in some cases to be caused by vaccines.”

    PJ, that is completely false. There is no evidence whatsoever of a vaccine-autism link. It is terrible that autism is so common, but what is even worse are the people who further victimize the families of autistic children by pushing the fraudulent vaccine link.

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