MN health leaders discuss vaccination myths with Somali community members

In the wake of a measles outbreak largely impacting the Somali community, health and University of Minnesota officials are working on outreach.

That also means trying to dispel the belief that vaccines cause autism.

Minnesota is seeing its largest measles outbreak since 1990. Health leaders say it's a concerning situation they're trying to solve through conversation.

“It's important to share in the importance of factual science,” said Anab Gulaid, project coordinator at Institute of Community Integration at the U of M.

During a town hall, in both English and Somali, panelists worked to dispel the myths about vaccines and autism.

“There isn't any correlation on evidence-based research, but in the past there have been people who have spread rumors,” said Gulaid.

In Minnesota, only 42 percent of Somali children are vaccinated.

“When you have a situation like this where you've got just lots of unvaccinated individuals, disease just spreads wildly,” said Kris Ehresmann, director of infectious disease with the Minnesota Department of Health.

This year, a measles outbreak hit Minnesota. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the majority of cases were Somali-American patients. Of the 78 total cases, 74 were children. Nearly all were unvaccinated.

“We've had 22 of the cases hospitalized, so that's 28 percent. It's a very serious disease,” said Ehresmann.

But despite the outbreak, autism dominated the conversation at the town hall. Parents of children with autism shared their stories with the panel.

“They have very serious concerns about autism, so providing information about vaccines alone isn't sufficient,” said Ehresmann. “We need to address their fears and concerns about autism as well.”

The amount of measles cases hasn't risen since mid-June. Health leaders say they hope to see vaccination levels rise with continued outreach.