Minnesota is currently facing a vaccine crisis in its children.
In particular, rates for children turning two in 2018 show that around 80 percent of them have had the measles (MMR) vaccine. This is a lower percentage than previous years, and the Somalian children are even less likely to have received immunizations.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, only 33.8% of two-year-old Somali Minnesotans were vaccinated in 2018. This is the lowest ever recorded.
This rate reached its peak in the early 2000s, and has been steadily declining since. According to Lynn Bahta (the immunization clinical advisor for MDH), it dropped further at the start of the COVID-19 epidemic.
Hussein Santur is a People’s Center Clinics and Services nurse. He said that clinic’s vaccination rates suffered as more people used telehealth. There are many reasons for this, but it is most likely due to the closing of vaccination clinics during the height of the pandemic, and the increase in misinformation linking vaccinations with autism.
Bahta stated that measles could spread to Minnesota if it is not contained. This would mean that unvaccinated people, as well as those who have had only one dose of the vaccine, will be at risk. Globally, measles isn’t eradicated. This means that people can spread it to other parts of the world.
span style=”font weight: 400 It’s not a matter of whether or not it will happen in Minnesota,” Bahta stated.
Minnesota was the site of a 2017 measles epidemic, with approximately 75 cases reported. Bahta is concerned about the low vaccination rates. The 2017 outbreak caused a lot of stress on families due to the three-week quarantine.
Why are there such low vaccination rates?
Multiple studies have linked autism to the MMR vaccine. Andrew Wakefield published one of these studies in 1998. Although the study was later found to be fraudulent, it was later discredited. However, misinformation is still out there. Many Somali parents received autism diagnoses for their children, and they sought out his explanation.
Santur claims that the Somali community has a rich oral culture. Information is most often passed by word-of-mouth. Santur stated that although the Wakefield study was later retracted and it has been shown that there is no connection between them, stories and personal experiences remain in the community.
Santur believes that the myth is an answer to a question to which he doesn’t know yet.
span style=”font weight: 400 Parents are looking for answers when their child has been diagnosed with autism. He said that many times, the most effective way to find answers is through these campaigns that claim (MMR vaccine causes autism).
Health care system deficiencies
Bahta stated that it is often difficult to build trust between patients and providers. Bahta said that in addition to lack of trust, other barriers such as short appointment times and the use of interpreters can limit the time and connection between providers and patients.
You have 15 to 20 minutes with a patient, or someone and are trying to complete the well child exam. Then, you only have five minutes remaining and the topic of misinformation about vaccines comes up. Santur stated that it can be difficult to have this important conversation in just five minutes.
People’s Center Clinic will inform parents about the recommended vaccines for their child. Santur explained that parents can make their decision based on what they discuss with the provider about the vaccines. These conversations can also be scheduled at the clinic.
He said that parents may bring up myths and misinformation that can be found. It’s not a problem to have a conversation with them about it. Parents may raise myths or misinformation. As providers, we won’t shy away from discussing these issues. However, it is important to keep the conversation short and share only the facts with parents .”
People’s Center treated approximately 7,000 people last year. About 60% of those patients were East Africans or East African-descended, according to the clinic.
Bahta stated that another factor contributing to low rates is inequitable distribution of health care and barriers to accessing it, as well as the lack of education geared towards the community.
MDH is working with faith-based groups and radio stations to promote the vaccine. Bahta stated that MDH was also awarded a federal grant. This grants funds to MDH for the purpose of hiring Somalian people in order to build trust and feelings of representation.
A hard decision for many
Santur, a father of three, was skeptical about the vaccine despite his medical training.
I read all of the studies that disproved the original study. I was still hesitant about giving my child the MMR vaccine. This is despite all the stories you hear from our community about children with autism or parents who believe that the vaccine contributes to their child’s autism.
He decided that his children should get the MMR vaccine. However, it was not an easy decision.
He said that he understood why parents might be hesitant because of the oral culture in the community and people sharing different stories. “We see that these parents are not anti-vaxxers. They are trying to protect their kids as best they can. Sometimes they feel that not getting their children vaccinated is the best way to protect them .”
Santur believes that the Somali community looks up to doctors and medical providers as their authority. He believes that having Somali providers and clinic personnel could make a significant difference in vaccine rates.
span style=”font weight: 400 Having people who care about you is a big factor in your acceptance and feeling at ease. Santur stated that it is easier for Somali patients to trust me when they see me or I provide education to them. “If it’s someone who doesn’t look like you, there may be distrust and distrust in our healthcare system span>
A significant reason why some Somalians, as well as many other communities, have lower MMR vaccine rates is the stigma surrounding autism. The Sahan Journal published a piece on the efforts of the Somali community to change how autism is perceived.
span style=”font weight: 400 Communities” People with mental health issues are negatively viewed, even our own communities in the U.S. Bahta stated that it is important to keep your child safe from negative reactions or thinking.