From Catharine Richert, Minnesota Public Radio News
This Saturday marks a year after Minnesota has experienced its most severe outbreak of measles in recent history, and public health officials are still trying to publicize news about vaccinations against measles.
Last year the state had 75 cases of the disease, making it the biggest outbreak since 1990. Almost a third of these patients became so ill that they were admitted to the hospital. Although there is an effective vaccine against measles, health officials said that 91 percent of those who had the disease last year had not been vaccinated against the disease.
Since last year, public health officials have said that they have implemented new strategies to combat outbreaks of infectious diseases and to inform parents about the importance of vaccination.
Are measles cases discovered this year in Minnesota?
Yes. Earlier this month, health officials announced that a Somali-American child who had recently traveled to a country with measles had the disease. Measles have been identified with a second child living in Kenya but traveling to Minnesota and also becoming ill here.
Health officials said that these most recent cases are a good reminder that even if measles are rare in the United States, it is still important to get the vaccine because travelers can carry it with them and infect people who have not had recordings.
Have the vaccinations increased this year?
Among Somali-American children, where the outbreak of last year was centered, they are.
At the time of last year's outbreak, the vaccine coverage rate for Somali American children was 42 percent and this year it is about 58 percent.
Vaccination rates for measles for non-Somali-American children are about 91 percent.
Why are fewer Somalian-American children being vaccinated?
A higher percentage of Somali parents suspect that vaccines cause autism. This is not supported by science, but the myth has been perpetuated in the community by anti-vaccine groups and lawyers.
So before and after last year's outbreak, the health department worked to inform the Somali parents about the vaccine against measles.
What has changed since last year?
In the legislative session of 2017, legislators created a $ 5 million fund that is exclusively intended to combat major outbreaks of infectious diseases. That's because infectious diseases can strike quickly and unexpectedly and they require a quick response. Part of that money was used to tackle outbreaks of measles.
At the same time, the legislator changed the quarantine status of the state. Previously, the law only provided quarantine protection for people with infectious diseases. But that is problematic when children are quarantined because they need an adult to stay with them at home. So the language was changed to extend that protection to caregivers and caretakers.
What are some of the continuing challenges that the health department sees when it comes to preventing outbreaks of measles?
Health officials said the biggest challenge is that they can not rest on their laurels. Everywhere in the state children are born and the goal is to get 100 percent coverage.
But specifically in the Somali-American community, these long-standing fears about the wrong link between vaccines and autism remain difficult to overcome.
That said, public health officials said they have learned a lot when it comes to talking about immunizations with members of the Somali-American community. For example, focusing on exposing the link between vaccines and autism was not very effective. Health officials said they had learned that they needed to talk more about the development of the child and then talk about vaccines.
Meanwhile, the health department has added Somalian-American aid workers. And they continue to call in help from faith leaders, which seems to be effective because they play a crucial role in spreading accurate information.