In response to the measles cases in their community, Somali parents are being encouraged by the Minnesota Department of Health, medical centers and facilities, as well as the conventional general media outlets, to have their children obtain the MMR (Mumps, Measles, and Rubella) vaccine. But a number of Somali parents have declined the vaccines because they have experienced their children suffering severe adverse effects, including life-long permanent injury, from vaccines, particularly the MMR vaccine.
Somali parents have reached out to Minnesota vaccine safety groups and leaders and have begun to share their stories. Vaccine leaders from National Health Freedom Coalition (NHFC), National Health Freedom Action (NHFA), Vaccine Safety Council of Minnesota (VSCMN), and Vaccine Awareness Minnesota (VAM), have listened to these accounts, and have begun educating Somali parents about their right in Minnesota to make their own decisions about vaccinations for their children.
Minnesota has a fast-growing immigrant community, including over 40,000 people of Somali descent.[i] Many Somali parents have shared that since coming to America, they have had the terrible experience of seeing their children suffer severe adverse effects from vaccines, particularly the MMR vaccine. More and more parents are reporting the same thing – an alarming reaction to the vaccine, with fever, diarrhea and vomiting, seizures, and regression of functions.
Vaccine safety leaders have heard from Abdirisak Jama, whose son suffered a seizure in the car on the way home from getting his MMR shot. His son “lost everything,” all of his current capabilities, according to his father. Abdirisak’s son is now 14 years old, needs complete care, and has no ability to speak.
They heard from the parent of a child who developed diarrhea within hours of the vaccine, diarrhea that never really ended. He lost his ability to eat foods, eventually needing constant naso-gastric tube for feeding, and eventually died.
They heard about Somali children who were talking according to their age level, up until the day they got the MMR vaccine, and that was the last day that these children ever spoke. This has happened so frequently that the MMR vaccine became known in the Somali community as “the vaccine that makes your child stop talking”.
In response to these experiences, the vaccine safety advocates and the Somali community members discussed the need for more research into the high incidence of vaccine injuries in the Somali community.
In 2010, a study was launched by the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Community Integration called “The Minneapolis Somali Autism Spectrum Disorder Prevalence Project”.[ii] The study was designed to answer the question: “Is there a higher prevalence of ASD in Somali children who live in Minneapolis versus non-Somali children?”. The results of the study showed that about 1 in 32 Somali children aged 7-9 years was identified as having Autism Spectrum Disorder. This was in contrast to the overall rate of the study estimated at 1 in 48, with the White population at 1 in 36, the Black (non-Somali) population at 1 in 62, and the Hispanic population at 1 in 80. The study also indicated that males were more likely to be identified as having ASD than females in all racial and ethnic groups in Minneapolis.[iii] The Minnesota Department of Health’s view of the study stated that there was no statistically meaningful difference between the two estimates of Somalis and Whites.[iv]
In 2012, the Minnesota Legislature authorized a study by the Minnesota Department of Health on the experiences of having a child with autism among the Somali community. The study was intended to understand “cultural- and resource-based aspects of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) that are unique to the Somali community.” With the approval of the Minnesota Department of Health, the study was extended to also include the Hmong and Latino communities. The study was not intended to assess the prevalence or incidence of autism spectrum disorders or the causes of these disorders.[v]
Notably, in 2013, a research study was completed at the Mayo clinic on Somali recipients of the rubella vaccine (one component of the MMR) and led by Dr. Gregory Poland MD. The results showed that Somali individuals receiving the vaccine had an immune response twice as great as Caucasians and that a non-Somali, African-American cohort ranked next in immune response, still significantly higher than Caucasians, and Hispanic Americans in the study were least responsive to the vaccine.[vi] This study may shed some light on the high rate of adverse reactions in Somali individuals to the MMR vaccine.