The state of Minnesota is battling the biggest outbreak of measles since 1990, and state health officials are hoping it is tapering off. Seventy-eight people caught the disease, mostly Somali-Americans, and nearly a third were hospitalized.

The Somali-American community in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is tight-knit. At one time, they had the highest rates of vaccinations against measles than any other group in the state until they heard this:

“Autism is caused by vaccines administered (to those) under 3 years of life.”

Anti-vaccination groups believe that vaccines expose children to health risks and can cause harm, and they convinced Somali-Americans in Minneapolis that the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), caused autism. So while they continued getting their children vaccinated for everything else, the rates for this particular vaccine dropped dramatically.

Patsy Stinchfield is a nurse in Minnesota. She blames the state’s measles outbreak on anti-vaccination groups.

“I would say almost exclusively the whole responsibility lands on the anti-vaccine movement,” she said, “and the reason is misinformation and myths spread about a link between MMR and autism, of which there is none, and science has proven that not to be true,” she added. She spoke to VOA via Skype. 

Since March, Stinchfield has been at the forefront of Minnesota’s measles outbreak. She says the Somali-Americans came together fast to hold community meetings where doctors could talk about the safety and effectiveness of the measles vaccine. 

Since then, they have been getting to clinics to get their children vaccinated.

“Since the outbreak, the message has gotten out that measles, mumps, rubella vaccine is safe,” Stinchfield said. “It’s effective, and typically in a week in Hennepin County, which is the Minneapolis county, there would be 500 MMRs given, and for three weeks in a row, there were 3,000 MMRs given for three weeks in a row, so that is a tremendous response.”

Stinchfield said measles took the Somali-Americas by surprise.

“They did not think that measles would be in the United States,” she said, “and so the level of fear was greater for autism. This has now shifted, because the level of fear and the level of fear for measles is great because these families know measles. They’ve had loved ones die of measles in Somalia.”

Measles was wiped out in the U.S. 17 years ago, but outbreaks still happen when someone carries the virus back from a country where measles still circulates. 

Fortunately, no one who caught measles in Minnesota had any serious complications, and state officials are hoping to declare the outbreak over by the end of July.

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