To fight measles, Somali leaders want sustained engagement

Measles vaccine
Measles vaccine
Thomas Kienzle | AP file

The measles outbreak hit 60 cases on Tuesday — and 50 are in the Somali-American community. Somali-Americans have been especially affected by the disease because of the community's low vaccination rate.

Years ago, discredited researcher Andrew Wakefield pushed an anti-vaccination message on the community. He said the MMR vaccines caused autism — which is not true — and the idea took root.

Combating that message has been challenging, said Anab Gulaid, founder of the Somali Health Coalition.

"You have to get the narrative back and you have to win," Gulaid said. "But you also have to do it in a way that is strategic."

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What should doctors be thinking about when working to improve the MMR vaccination rate in the Somali-American community?

Somali leaders want sustained engagement, Gulaid said.

"People forget. People are busy. If we talk about this issue two years from now you might have a new parent who is having their first child," she said. "They might miss all this outreach and education and clinics vaccinating children faster."

There are signs that efforts to convince Somali parents to get their kids vaccinated may be working. Over the past two weeks, Somali-American children have been getting immunized at a rate of 500 shots a week — 17 times the normal rate, according to the health department.

Gulaid, who's the project coordinator for the Research and Training Center on Community Living at the University of Minnesota's Institute on Community Integration, joined MPR News host Tom Weber to discuss the measles outbreak.

The talked about the concerns of Somali parents, and barriers the Somali community faces in accessing health care and immunization programs.

To hear the full conversation, use the audio player above.