At least 47 children in the state of Minnesota, U.S.A., as of Friday, May 5, have been infected with measles, a virus that has been eliminated in the country in 2000.
The Washington Post reports that those who are sick (many are children under the age of 5) belong to the Somali-American immigrant community in Minnesota. The parents have refused to get their children vaccinated because they believe the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine triggers autism, a notion that the American Academy of Pediatrics (APA), the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and several large studies have disputed and found no evidence to support it. Of the 47 who have the virus, only two have been vaccinated. The number is expected to rise even more, considering the dip in vaccination rates in the last nine years.
According to Minnesota state health department data, immunization rates were high at 92% in 2004, but it gradually went down in 2008 when Somali-American parents began to notice that their children were increasingly becoming affected by autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Seeking answers online led them to anti-vaccine groups, which began to meet with them.
Another incident showed that one person who didn't know he was infected came for a visit to a hospital, and unknowingly exposed dozens of pregnant women and babies to the virus, including those in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
This year, in early April, the first few cases of measles appeared, and an outbreak has again been declared after 30 years. Back in 1990, 460 people contracted measles and three of them died.
Anti-vaccine movements have been gaining traction by targeting marginalized groups like the aforementioned Somali community.
Andrew Wakefield, the founder of the modern anti-vaccine movement, met with Somali parents of kids with autism in Minneapolis in 2010 and 2011 and spoke with them, say sources. He, however, does not feel responsible for this outbreak because "the Somalis had decided themselves that they were particularly concerned,” adding that all he and the anti-vaccine activists did was to provide information to the parents.
Today, in the midst of an outbreak, those infected by the measles virus continue to look for answers.