Forum on measles vaccinations changes few minds

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Health experts spent nearly two hours at a Somali community forum in Minneapolis, trying to persuade people that the measles vaccine is safe and necessary.

But the Star Tribune reported Sunday that there’s little evidence that Saturday night’s event changed anyone’s mind. A vaccine clinic outside the meeting room was still awaiting its first customer afterward.

More than 50 people attended the forum, which was prompted by a measles outbreak in Hennepin County that has sickened 11 people, including five Somali children.

Minnesota’s large Somali community long has been worried by reports of growing rates of autism, which members believe may be linked to vaccine. Health officials say vaccination rates have dropped as a result.

Dr. Abdirahman Mohamed, one of two Somali physicians at the event, warned that families who don’t vaccinate their children against measles put their lives in danger. He said he knows of six Somali-American children who have caught measles and died during visits to Africa since 2008, including two from Minnesota.

“There are parents who still resist the vaccine, unfortunately, because they’re misinformed,” he said.

Mohamed tried to dispel fears that the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine has been linked to autism.

“It has been investigated, the vaccine and autism has absolutely no connection,” he said. “There’s something else causing autism, it’s not MMR.”

Officials from the state Health Department, Children’s Hospital and a Muslim imam all echoed his comments. But several parents said the health experts simply haven’t done enough to address their fears.

Sofie Ali, one of the parents at the forum, said she still believes her son’s autism was triggered by the vaccine and all the assurances she heard did nothing to change that.

“I know some of you may say it’s not true, but I saw the truth,” she said. “Nobody’s talking about the children who are sick in our homes.”

Dr. Ed Ehlinger, the state health commissioner, said the Somali community has gotten officials’ attention.

“Do we know the answer? No. Do we have the commitment to try to find the answers? Yes,” he said.

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