Autism Fears, Measles Spike Among Minn. Somalis

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Health officials struggling to contain a measles outbreak that’s hit hard in Minneapolis’ large Somali community are running into resistance from parents who fear the vaccine could give their children autism.

Fourteen confirmed measles cases have been reported in Minnesota since February. Half have been in Somali children, six of whom were not vaccinated and one who was not old enough for shots. State officials have linked all but one of the cases to an unvaccinated Somali infant who returned from a trip to Kenya in February. The state had reported zero or one case of measles a year for most of the past decade.

Amid the outbreak, a now-discredited British researcher who claimed there was a link between vaccines and autism has been meeting with local Somalis. Some worry Andrew Wakefield is stoking vaccination fears, but organizers say the meetings were merely a chance for parents to ask him questions.

“Unfortunately a lot of the media thinks he’s saying ‘Don’t get vaccinated.’ That’s far from the truth. He’s basically encouraging people to get vaccinated but do your homework and know the risks,” said Wayne Rohde, a co-founder of the Vaccine Safety Council of Minnesota, which says parents should have other options for immunizing their children.

Measles has been all but eradicated in the United States, but accounts for about 200,000 annual deaths worldwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. None of those infected in Minnesota have died, though eight have required hospitalization.

The infections come as autism concerns have surged over an apparent rise in cases in Minnesota’s Somali community, the largest in the U.S. Officials, though, haven’t determined if that’s really happening.

The Minnesota Department of Public Health found in 2009 that young Somali children in Minneapolis public schools were over-represented in autism programs, but cautioned that alone didn’t prove a higher rate of autism. The CDC and National Institutes of Health are working with the advocacy group Autism Speaks on a more systematic study.

Critics argue new efforts are moving too slowly. The lack of answers has frustrated parents of autistic children like Idil Abdull, co-founder of the Somali American Autism Foundation. Abdull, who lives in suburban Savage, said public officials need to be more active with research, resources and services.

Meanwhile, Somali parents hungry for information have met with Wakefield during three recent visits facilitated by local autism activists.

Wakefield’s work fueled a backlash against childhood vaccinations after he published a 1998 paper in the medical journal Lancet linking autism to the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine in a dozen children. But other medical researchers and the Sunday Times of London called Wakefield’s work into question. The Lancet retracted his paper last year, the U.K.’s General Medical Council ordered that his name be erased from the country’s medical register, and the British Medical Journal in January denounced him as a fraud.

Wakefield does not have a listed telephone number and has not responded to emails sent by The Associated Press or messages left with his publisher. But he issued a statement in January standing by his work and calling for more research to determine if environmental triggers, including vaccines, cause autism.

“Any medical professional, government official or journalist who states that the case is closed on whether vaccines cause autism is jumping to conclusions without the research to back it up,” he said.

Numerous studies addressing autism and vaccines, or the mercury-based preservative thimerosal, which was formerly used to preserve vaccines, have so far found no link.

About 100 parents attended Wakefield’s first Minneapolis appearance in December. About 15 met with him during his most recent visit, on March 23. Rohde said he and others were asked to arrange the meeting by Somali parents who wanted the chance to question Wakefield privately.

Several parents said they were wary of the MMR vaccine because measles is usually temporary while autism is permanent, said Rohde, who lives in suburban Woodbury and has a 13-year-old with autism. Rohde said he doesn’t claim the vaccine caused his son’s autism by itself but believes it was a factor.

Dr. Abdirahman Mohamed, a Minneapolis Somali family practice physician, contends Wakefield has caused a global hysteria that has cost lives. He said he has warned the Somali community to stay away from the researcher.

“He’s using a vulnerable population here, mothers looking for answers,” Mohamed said. “He’s providing a fake hope.”

Hodan Hassan, of Minneapolis, said she stopped vaccinating her four children after her daughter Geni, now 6, was diagnosed with autism when she was about a year old. Hassan said she went to Wakefield’s presentation in December and considered him a hero. Then a doctor friend urged her to take a closer look at the rejection of Wakefield’s research.

“I feel personally hurt because I believed in him and trusted him and now I find out all these lies and other things out there,” said Hassan, who is currently getting all her children up to date on their shots. Minnesota requires that all children enrolled in school be vaccinated against measles and other common diseases, but parents can opt out for “conscientiously held beliefs.”

Health officials are working with Somali community leaders to urge more parents to get their children vaccinated, though few people have taken advantage of recent clinics. One clinic conducted last weekend by Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis prepared 600 doses, but only 20 children and four adults showed up. Three were Somalis, said Patsy Stinchfield, director of the infectious disease program for Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

“There is still a significant level of concern in the Somali community, and deservedly so, acknowledged said Minnesota Department of Public Health spokesman Buddy Ferguson, noting scientists still don’t know what causes autism.

“What we can tell people is that numerous attempts have been made to test the idea scientifically that there’s a link between vaccines and autism using large, well-designed studies,” he said. “They’ve never been able to find a link.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • logan

    there is no link, NO LINK, between vaccines and autism. get your kids vaccinated, and since i am 45, i plan on getting an MMR booster!

  • MAJ

    I am a Sr. Citizen and growing up I did not know anyone with autism. No one that I knew who were my childrens friends and classmates had autism. I volunteer in an elementary school and YES there are children going to that school with autism. Why can’t someone in authority tell us why children have autism now and it was unheard of years ago. I would question the number of shots given now days in comparison to how many were given in the past.

  • Dave Seavy

    Whether the vaccine causes Autism will be the subject of great debate for years. Today, though, we have a measles outbreak, and this loophole that allows unvaccinated children to enter the schools ought to be closed immediately. We’ve had many contagious diseses irradicated until we started making exceptions to pacify people moving to the USA. I don’t know of another country that is willing to bend its rules to accommodate immigrants, especially to the point of risking the public health and welfare. On top of it all, guess who is paying for treatment of these diseases? Once again our welcome mat is caked with the mud of our politically correct government not holding to our regulations and standards, just so we can appear to be the world’s melting pot.

    • marjorie

      I agree entirely with Dave Seavy. Our young children are exposed to the diseases all over again, since the South East Asians and Somalis have migrated to Minnesota for all our welfare benefits and other amenities.

    • Transparency

      Over 50% of the measles cases in MSP are not Somalian. 6 of the 14

      And for those who think that there is no link, check out • VAERS, the national vaccine safety surveillance program sponsored by the CDC and FDA, reported on the MMR vaccine “166 cases of encephalopathy [brain inflammation] occurring 6-15 days after vaccination have been identified.”

      • On July 20, 2007 the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program of the U.S. Federal Courts ruled that the MMR vaccine alone had caused autism in petitioner Bailey Banks “both caused-in-fact and proximately caused by vaccination.”

      • Norma

        This is what that sight really says.
        Recent estimates from CDC’s Autism Developmental Disabilities Monitoring network found that about 1 in 150 children have ASD. This estimate is higher than estimates from the early 1990s. Some people believe increased exposure to thimerosal (from the addition of important new vaccines recommended for children) explains the higher prevalence in recent years. However, evidence from several studies examining trends in vaccine use and changes in autism frequency does not support such an association. Furthermore, a scientific review by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that “the evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal-containing vaccines an autism.” CDC supports the IOM conclusion.

  • John

    There is no need for vaccination, I my self have none and will never ever get any. When I have children they will not have them either. There is no law saying that you have to have them and there are 3 ways around it. My high school the day I turned 18 tried to scare me in to getting them and then I informed them that I did not have to get them or will do so. They said that then you can’t go to school and I told them that they were lying to me and I just needed the paper work to get notarized and after fighting with them for about 45 min I got the paper work that they calmed did not exist. What a Joke. Its all lies and now I’m 31 and healthier then most of my classmates.

  • Joy

    I would like to see research comparing the number of children who have ASD that have not been vaccinated.

  • Cynthia

    If they refuse to vaccinate then deport them. They are putting others at risk. It may be their choice not to vaccinate, but it is not their right to endanger others.

  • L.

    ASD seems to be the catch-all diagnosis these days just as ADHD was a decade ago. We do have much better diagnostic procedures; however, there are so many kids being diagnosed based on SECONDARY symptoms such as sensory or behavioral observations verses PRIMARY deficiencies with referencing, attending, and coordinating with others. Schools have different criteria than the medical field for diagnosis. There are many children that receive a school diagnosis of ASD because then the child will get more services, including social skills training. It is sad to see the confusion and then the claims that their child was “cured” based on a certain intervention. Perhaps the child did not truly have Autism! S many of the kids we see have more of an anxiety based issue interpreted to be ASD based on hand flapping and lack of eye contact (referencing). Regarding the vaccines, the insult to the child’s little body is horrific when they are getting 5 to 9 vaccines at a time. This is a significant trigger to a possible pre-disposition to ASD or other developmental disorder. It is your choice to vaccinate but as a parent, be smart about it and spread them out! There are so many factors to this issue and no one seems to be discussing it – this is not an “either/or” black and white issue.

  • Emlee

    Let’s leave immigration out of the debate here — many people travel around the world and bring home germs from areas where vaccines are not readily available.
    Let’s add to the debate the link between giving Tylenol at the same time as the vaccine. You can read the studies on European and Australian web sites, but very few in the US. I have my family fully immunized, but I have not given them Tylenol at the same time — it messes up the body & brain’s response to the vaccine. When I was a kid, no one had heard of Tylenol- we just had asprin until the Reye’s Syndrome scare. Now that excessive use of all forms of acetaminaphine is rampant, we have a lot of ASD diagnoses…
    I agree with writers on spreading out the shots, but try to get appointments at the right times with your doctor for them! Frustrating.

  • xaalimo mohamed

    runtii websadka aad buu macqull u yahay waana kuwa og dhaw oo runta sheego
    Thanks friend for the share

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