Advertisement

An outbreak of measles, a disease eliminated from most of the U.S. about two decades ago, began in Minnesota in March. It infected 79 people up until last month. The epicenter of the virus transmission was the state’s Somali-American community, which had responded to anti-vaccine messages connecting inoculations to autism.

By the height of the summer, the tide apparently turned. Vaccination rates in the Somalian community skyrocketed over several months, with the help and collaboration of religious leaders, according to a report in The Washington Post. The last measles case was identified on July 13 – and the outbreak could be declared over this Friday.

But that’s the same day that a tour bus for a major “anti-vax” documentary will be in Minneapolis to rally parents for “choice.” Even as the spread of measles slows, the local tug-of-war between health officials and self-educated parents has lasted for months – and appears bound to continue.

At one point during the outbreak, anti-vaccine parents even publicly discussed throwing “measles parties” to purposely spread the potentially-fatal virus between the children, for the sake of immunity. “Anti-vax” groups in the North Star State have doubled down on their message on social media and elsewhere, saying they have not instructed anyone to avoid the MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccine – they are simply defending “freedom” and “informed consent,” they said.

The Minnesota Vaccine Freedom Coalition and the Vaccine Safety Council of Minnesota both have encouraged parents to stand up to “official bullying” from agencies urging vaccination – but contend they only stand for parents’ choice.

Neither group has taken an explicit stance on the “measles parties” mentioned on some social media posts by parents.

“It is not a topic of our groups or organizations at all and we are not aware of anyone who even personally knows someone who had the measles during the outbreak,” the MVFC wrote on Facebook last week. “Unlike the department of health and many doctors, we don’t tell people what to do. We are about informed consent – sharing scientific data and Minnesota laws so citizens know THEY have choices and the right to make them.”

The MVFC maintains that the virus was once widespread – and now contends the “media seems to have miraculously rendered this common childhood rash terrifying and worthy of vaccine mandates.”

(An estimated 2.6 million people worldwide were dying of measles each year in the 1970s, before widespread vaccination – according to science).

According to The Washington Post, most of the 79 cases were from preschool children in the Somali community. But since the outbreak, imams at local mosques and other community leaders have encouraged the MMR vaccination. The newspaper reports that thousands of members of the community have gotten the shots, apparently stopping the outbreak.

Doug Schulz, a spokesman for the Minnestoa Department of Health, told Laboratory Equipment that the MMR vaccination rate in the Somali population was a major factor in reducing cases - but it wasn't the only one. Quick diagnosis through accelerated laboratory work - and using the practice of exclusion by asking the infected to stay home from work and school - also played a critical role, Schultz said.

But the state health department did not have first-hand knowledge of the so-called "measles parties," Schultz added.

“While there’s been some recent speculation that the outbreak was nearing its end, we’ve been cautious about making any predictions,” said Kristen Ehresmann, director of infectious disease for the Minnesota Department of Health, in a public statement last month. “We remain optimistic that we’re heading in the right direction thanks to the public health measures we’ve taken in partnership with local public health, the affected individuals and communities.”

The MVFC is also publicly encouraging parents in the community to attend a screening this Friday of the movie “Vaxxed” – a film directed by Andrew Wakefield, the British doctor whose research started the anti-vax movement, but which was eventually discredited.

Advertisement
Advertisement