Thanks To Anti-Vaccine Activists, A State Has Its Worst Measles Outbreak In Decades


The young mother started getting advice early on from friends in the close-knit Somali immigrant community here. Don’t let your children get the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella – it causes autism, they said.

Suaado Salah listened. And this spring, her 3-year-old boy and 18-month-old girl contracted measles in Minnesota’s largest outbreak of the highly infectious and potentially deadly disease in nearly three decades. Her daughter, who had a rash, high fever and cough, was hospitalized for four nights and needed intravenous fluids and oxygen.

“I thought: ‘I’m in America. I thought I’m in a safe place and my kids will never get sick in that disease,’ ” said Salah, 26, who has lived in Minnesota for more than a decade. Growing up in Somalia, she’d had measles as a child. A sister died of the disease at age 3.

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.

Federal guidelines typically recommend that children get the first vaccine dose at 12 to 15 months of age and the second when they are 4 to 6 years old. The combination is 97 percent effective in preventing the viral disease, which can cause pneumonia, brain swelling, deafness and, in rare instances, death. State health officials are now recommending doses for babies as young as 6 months if there is concern for ongoing measles exposure.

Minnesota’s Somali community is the largest in the country. The roots of the outbreak there date to 2008, when parents raised concerns that their children were disproportionately affected by autism spectrum disorder. A limited survey by the state health department the following year found an unexpectedly high number of Somali children in a preschool autism program. But a University of Minnesota study found that Somali children were about as likely as white children to be identified with autism, although they were more likely to have intellectual disabilities.

Around that time, health-care providers began receiving reports of parents refusing the MMR vaccine.

As parents sought to learn more about the disorder, they came across websites of anti-vaccine groups. And activists from those groups started showing up at community health meetings and distributing pamphlets, recalled Lynn Bahta, a longtime state health department nurse who has worked with Somali nurses to counter MMR vaccine resistance within the community.

At one 2011 gathering featuring Wakefield, Bahta recalled, an armed guard barred her, other public health officials and reporters from attending.

Fear of autism runs so deep in the Somali community that parents whose children have recently come down with measles insist that measles is preferable to risking autism. One father, who did not want his family identified to protect its privacy, sat helplessly by his daughter’s bed at Children’s Minnesota hospital last week as she struggled to breathe during coughing fits.

The 23-month-old was on an IV for fluids and had repeatedly pulled out the oxygen tube in her nose. Her older brother, almost 4, endured a milder bout. Neither had received the MMR vaccine.

The children now have antibodies to protect against measles, but they still need the vaccine to prevent mumps and rubella. Their father, who is 33 and studying mechanical engineering while working as a mechanic, wants to wait. His worry: autism. A colleague has a son “who is mute.”

“I would hold off until she’s 3 . . . or until she fluently starts talking,” he said.

His wife no longer harbors doubts, however. As soon as both children are well, she said, “they are going to get the shot.”

The pervasive mistrust was evident Sunday night during a meeting, sponsored by several anti-vaccine groups, that drew a mostly Somali crowd of 90 to a Somali-owned restaurant here. Patti Carroll, a member of the Vaccine Safety Council of Minnesota, described its goal as giving parents more information, including about their right to refuse to vaccinate. People have been “bullied big-time” by doctors and public health officials, she said.

The presentation by anti-vaccine activist Mark Blaxill drew cheers and applause. Blaxill, a Boston businessman whose adult daughter has autism, played down the threat of measles and played up local autism rates.

“When you hear people from the state public health department saying there is no risk, that [vaccines] are safe, this is the sort of thing that should cause you to be skeptical,” Blaxill said.

Two pediatricians in the audience stepped up to a microphone to denounce the claims.

“I am very concerned, especially in the midst of a measles outbreak, to have folks come into a community impacted by this disease and start talking about links between MMR and autism,” said Andrew Kiragu, interim chief of pediatrics at Hennepin Medical Center in Minneapolis. “This is a travesty.”

He and the other doctors were interrupted by boos and yelling.

“For God’s sake, I want to know if vaccines are safe!” Sahra Osman shouted. She has a nearly adult son who received an autism diagnosis when he was 3. “My people are suffering! We’re not ignorant. I read a lot. I know a lot. I educate myself. . . . You don’t know what you are talking about.”

While scores of studies from around the world have shown conclusively that vaccines do not cause autism, that is often not a satisfactory answer for Somali American parents. They say that if science can explain that vaccines do not cause autism, science should be able to say what does.

But researchers don’t really know. A growing body of evidence suggests that brain differences associated with autism may be found early in infancy – well before children receive most vaccines. Other studies have found that alterations in brain-cell development related to autism may occur before birth. There are some genetic risk factors for autism, and advanced parental age has been associated with the condition.

Meanwhile, the ongoing spread of the anti-vaccine message is making it harder to control the burgeoning number of measles cases.

The groups continue advising parents, “in the middle of their crisis,” on how to opt out of vaccines, said pediatric nurse practitioner Patsy Stinchfield, an infection-control expert leading the outbreak response at Children’s Minnesota. That message is “exactly the opposite of what clinicians and public health officials are urging, which is to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

Staffers at her hospital have been working round-the-clock to vaccinate hundreds of people who may have been exposed; an MMR dose given within 72 hours of exposure can prevent measles.

When their two sick children are well, Suaado Salah and her husband, Tahlil Wehlie, plan to talk to friends and acquaintances to spread the word that the anti-vaccine groups are wrong and that all youngsters should get immunized.

“Because when the kids get sick, it’s going to affect everybody. It’s not going to affect only the family who have the sick kid,” she said. “They make sick for everybody. That’s when you wake up and say, ‘Okay, what happened?’ ”

But she understands the apprehension that fed the outbreak. With a parent whose child has autism, she said, “it’s something that you’re looking for an answer for how it happened and what happened to your kid.”

(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Lena H. Sun



  1. We are in an extremely touchy era of the most innocent being determined to lose health worth well to be immunized against a preventable disease.

    The ignorance is so astound that the meer mention of autism which is a constant prevalence in society is driving madness to hate the very idea of a healthy society.

    There is no tolerance for anti-vaccine minds in any culture. This will destroy homes and displace human worry in many societies and our common place of pediatric health.

    There is an evil in this world and it continues. The anti-vaccers are the culprit.

    Sad story. Every paper should cover this sort of calamity. It is not a permissive society for hate ignorance in the name of public mistrust.

    • Most anti vacciners that I know are generally disfunctional parents. They’re very caught up with their own emotional issues and this makes them feel somehow like they’re doing something real for their kids.

  2. See the new study by Dr. Anthony Mawson comparing vaxxed and un vaxxed children. The study shows not only higher rates of autism among the vaccinated but also many other neuro developmental diseases such as Adhd as well as many Autoimmune diseases.

    • I’m doing perfectly well. So is anyone else I know that was vaccinated. It’s all in the head. Same pple that scream that epidural paralizes a person. Every sickness is pre ordained from shamayim….. In addition, eon chadash Tasha’s hashemesh. If hashem allowed us a solution for prevention, then it’s only good…

  3. Its one thing when the islamonazis in Minnesota are recipients of the Darwin awards. When it happens in Lakewood or Monsey, the anti vaccine fools should be banished from our community.

  4. Measles was considered a relatively mild rite of passage childhood disease to the extent that people used to have measles parties so their kids would catch it and be done with it. There are rare serious complications from measles but those complications are probably much rarer then than the serious adverse effects from MMR vaccine. Disinformation articles like this one love to scare with tales of death from measles. They fail to disclose that those deaths are occurring in third world countries with poor nutrition and poor sanitation and are not occurring in the US. It is known that nutrient deficiency particularly vitamin A plays a role in severity of Measles. The article fails to mention that recently vaccinated MMR recipients are capable of spreading live measles due to viral shedding. There are questions surrounding the safety of vaccine strain virus versus wild type measles strain. Some have suggested that the dreaded sub sclerosing pan encephalitis – SSPE is more likely to be caused by Vaccine strain measles either due to mutations in that strain or due to the way the immune system is activated by route of injection as opposed to inhalation. There are many reports of children experiencing growth spurts and improved vitality and health following recovery from wild type measles. This may be due to a positive immuno modulatory effect the wild type measles has on the human immune system. It is important to note that there is a vast body of peer reviewed scientific literature available on Pub Med that demonstrates not only a link between our current vaccine regimen and autism but also other neuro developmental deficits such as ADHD OCD,Anxiety disorders and auto immune disorders. In his recent book “The Environmental and Genetic causes of Autism”, Dr James Lyons Weiler reviews over 3000 studies and points out that the vast majority of the epidemic number of cases of neuro developmental disorders such as Autism ADHD etc. are being caused by vaccines together with various genetic predispositions and susceptibilities to one or more ingredients in vaccines. The EPA has stated that the breakout year for the exponential rise in Autism Etc. was 1989 which correlates well with the increase in the the vaccine schedule following the removal of product liability from vaccine manufacturers with the 1986 Vaccine Injury Compensation Act. The Vaccine Injury Compensation program has paid out over 3 Billion dollars since it’s inception. So if anyone wants to claim Vaccines are safe they need to explain why so much money is Being paid out by the government to severely vaccine injured people. In truth the government admits that only 1 to 10 percent of adverse vaccine reactions are reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting system. There is also a 3 year statute of limitations for filing a vaccine injury claim against the government. So in reality the compensation for vaccine injury should be much higher. This is why the CDC has been lying about the safety of vaccines. Were the real facts to become widespread knowledge, the country would be bankrupted by the compensation claims and there would be a demand to stop vaccine mandates and the entire pharmaceutical industry would collapse.

    • Being a sibling of one that had a heavy case of measles… Don’t try to sell ur bubba meises here. She almost died….

    • & from where did you “copy & paste” all this info??
      To all those anti vaccinating: you are selfish, very very selfish!! There are unfortunetly many children that are sick & have low immune systems that can not get vaccinated. They are counting on us all to get the vaccines so as not to spread the deadly diseases.

    • what an appalling comment. There were never measles parties! Perhaps chicken pox, but measles??? Measles was and still is rightfully considered a dangerous, potentially fatal disease.
      People today who never saw a child struggling for life should stop posting idiotic comments as if they know what they are talking about.
      There is NO conclusive evidence of any link between autism and MMR. “Autism” bichlal is not a disease – it is a spectrum of issues that nobody seems to be able to define properly. Levels “spike” when the definition changes to incorporate all kinds of things that were perhaps once called retardation etc..
      The anti-vax movement is part of the anti-globalization movement that believes that there exists a vast conspiracy to reduce the world’s population led by people like Bill Gates, the Clintons, the Rothschilds and so on. Facts are invented or twisted to fit into this weird theory – and of course it is closely linked to anti-Semitism.

    • Except that just about every doctor disagrees with you. But you know better at the expense of murdering innocent children. Vosid litein es hadin…

  5. I am curious why the anti vaccine people are so determined to get other people to stop vaccinating. If they think it is dangerous, so let them not vaccinate their own children. Why is is such a major part of their belief to influence others? I find it hard to believe that it is altruistic and they really are so caring about other people. Something tells me that there is an agenda here.

      • how does that answer the question? It is very suspicious that they are so very determined to get everyone else to stop vaccinating. why would they care what everyone else does? Do they really care about the health of their fellow citizens??? It just makes me wonder if they have an agenda.

        • “I am curious why the anti vaccine people are so determined to get other people to stop vaccinating”
          I said learn how vaccinations work. Because herd immunity is why people want others to vaccinate.
          Herd immunity!

  6. When enough parents stop vaccinating their children herd immunity is lost and you have epidemics. Also there are children who are too young to be immunized or have conditions that prevent vaccination and they are in danger when the herd immunity is compromized. Sort of like the guy who pays for his airline seat and doesn’t see why he should’not saw a hole in the floor by his seat.

    Measels can cause all kinds of complications including heart problems and even death.

    Those anti valuers are nuts and living in cloud cukku land.

  7. Who cares about Minnesotans? With their Democrat Governor and their 2 hapless left wing luney Senators, they wouldn’t know the difference anyway. The cold weather has obviously affected their brains. Yeh, AL Franken. Seriously?

  8. If the Vaccine works, why do you care if someone else isn’t immune? Nothing can happen to you! (unless you have a sneaky suspicion that it wont work… In which case- maybe they have a reason why they didn’t vaccinate.)

    • Foolish comment. Because there are those that can’t be immunized. They are either too young or have unhealthy immune systems etc.

      • So then they should go live in a cave somewhere in the Sahara desert. This way they’ll be protected from peanut butter as well. Don’t impose your chesronos on everybody else.

        • I don’t understand how you are not embarassed to post that comment! Should I take my child that has a low immune system because he is battling leukemia to a cave because you are selfish!!

    be informed – don’t just shoot from the hip.
    if anti-vaxxers would be more logical and reasonable, then maybe more people would listen.
    instead they are often hysterical and ridiculous, making a dubious case that those promoting vaccines really just want to kill us all (if that’s what they want, they aren’t doing too well at it…) and get written off as crackpot loonies.
    And, ASK DAAS TORAH! Umm, i think a lot of people forgot about that…

  10. Herd immunity – The health of the herd is more important than any single life. This is an interesting justification for our current paradigm of mandatory vaccination in the US. If people would stop and think what the implications of this oft repeated “Herd Immunity” are, perhaps they would not be so comfortable with it. For starters in Judaism we value the individual over the “herd”. We also have a rule of your life or your friends life your life takes precedence. It is also very disgusting to refer to Human beings as a “herd”. Utilizing the word herd as a replacement for Human souls is a way of devaluing individual life and dehumanizing people. Once you dehumanize a person it becomes much easier to take away their rights and abuse them. As you can see from the previous commenters, because I take an anti vaccine stance based on science, I have been called a “Rodef” a “Murderer” “Selfish” “Anti Semite” and so on. So I take it that it would be a mitzvah to kill me because I advocate against vaccination based on science. very interesting. Really I do not advocate preventing you from vaccinating yourself or your child. I do however think that the coercive laws in the US surrounding vaccination and the continued push to enact even more coercive legislation is unfair and a grave threat and danger to personal liberty and religious freedom. Even if you are pro vaccine you should be concerned about this. Today they are taking away your right to refuse a vaccine. Tomorrow what will they take away? The right to Circumcise? The right to wear a Yarmulke? The right to refuse your child’s request to have Gender Reassignment Surgery? In California where they removed the religious exemption to vaccine mandates last year, they are now pushing Legislation known as SB18 – “The Childs bill of rights”. If that passes and it likely will, the state will be able to determine that you are not meeting your childs emotional needs by not allowing them to live a lifestyle in accordance with their chosen gender identity and they will then be able to remove the child from you and provide the emotional and physical needs that you failed to provide. So yes it is not just about the science that shows vaccines are very harmful to many people. There is indeed a larger agenda at play being pushed by people like Bill Gates with his Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization – Gavi. It is not a “conspiracy theory”. Bill Gates started Gavi with $750 million and has since dedicated $10 Billion for this project. His partners are WHO, Unicef, and the World Bank. The World Health Organization was behind the fake Swine Flu H1N1 Pandemic of 2009. Tens of Billions of dollars were spent on vaccines for that “Pandemic” including the Pandemerix vaccine manufactured by Glaxo which caused thousands of children in Europe to be permanently disabled with Narcolepsy. I guess they were just doing their duty and sacrificing for the herd.

    • Thank you for speaking the truth. You’ve presented your case in a respectful logical way. Keep speaking out. Don’t be intimidated by the fake commentators who are regaling us with their alleged sob stories of their alleged family members. If they allegedly have a problem, THEY have to deal with it. They can’t impose their I’ll informed demands on the masses.

      • Your distrust of others especially doctors is causing you to put lives at peril. I think anyone that goes to Shomayim and says I did what I can do by listening to prevailing medical opinion will be okay. That unfortunately for you cannot be said for those that distrust the prevailing opinions and believe the conspiracy opinions. Vosid litein es hadin…

      • While I sympathize with people who are immuno compromised and I understand their fear of contracting an infection that they are ill equipped to handle, the science has to trump fear. The scientific fact is that immuno compromised individuals are more likely to contract Pertussis and Measles from someone who was vaccinated for those diseases. Pertussis because a vaccinated individual can culture Pertussis asymptomatically and transmit it that way. Measles because a vaccinated individual can shed measles virus and transmit it that way. Also someone who is immuno compromised is in danger from any infection including the common cold for which there is no vaccination. We also did not mention all the children who now require peanut free zones and epi-pens. The new epidemic of peanut allergies has been Linked to Meningococcal and Pneumococcal vaccines. Is it fair to require all of these children to acquire a life threatening allergy in the name of “Herd Immunity”? As far as children with cancer being immuno compromised, one of the reasons I am anti Vaccine is because I believe that vaccines have contributed to an increase in childhood cancer as well as adult cancer. For instance we know that Polio vaccines were contaminated with SV 40 virus – an onco- virus possibly till as late as 2003. Additionally Dr Judy Mikovitz , a former NIH scientist, has written a book titled “Plague” where she lays out the case that vaccines have been contaminated until recently with Murine Leukemia Virus. I hope readers realize that many of the pro vaccine comments on this article are from auto bots and trolls and are not authentic commenters. Just as the Russians tried to influence the election with these types of propaganda techniques so to the Pharmaceutical companies employ an arsenal of computerized persuasion methods to influence the public to accept the national vaccine program without questioning it. They also hire people to push their marketing under the guise of friendly sounding names and non profit entities. If you are not a passionate anti Vaxxer like myself though, you are likely not aware of this.

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