The current measles outbreak in a Somali community in Minneapolis didn’t surprise public health officials there, according to Megan Molteni:
[T]hey totally expected it. Over the last decade, anti-vaxxers have fortified this corner of Minneapolis into a bastion for pseudo-science. It all began with higher-than-normal rates of severe autism in the Somali community. And when state and university researchers failed to understand why the disorder hit so hard here, families went looking for answers elsewhere: friends, and the all-knowing internet. In came the anti-vax partisans, whose success with these frightened parents has turned the neighborhood into a beachhead for what should be a preventable disease.
In a nutshell, anti-vaxxers in Minnesota campaigned hard and won. They were coached by Andrew Wakefield, whose original 1998 paper started the rumors about the MMR vaccine causing autism. Never mind the facts that the journal has since retracted the article and Wakefield has had his medical license revoked.
The fruits of the anti-vaccine victory? A measles outbreak.
So: What did we think was going to happen? If we continue to avoid vaccines, the diseases we used to blithely avoid will enjoy a resurgence.
Measles kills around 10,000 Somali children a year. In Somalia. That is very sad, especially since it is potentially preventable. How many American children will it claim next year? We will have to see. Here’s hoping it doesn’t skyrocket with more outbreaks like this one.
The most intriguing part of this story is the higher than expected number of Somali children afflicted with autism. Why? What genetic (or epigenetic} factors are playing a role there? That’s where we should look for clues to autism’s origins. We should pay less attention to the yapping dogs urinating on the trees of immunization.