Minnesota health leaders ask imams to push for vaccination

Published 9:54 pm Monday, June 5, 2017

MINNEAPOLIS — With another three weeks of Ramadan and its gatherings, health care workers in Minnesota said they’re seeking help from religious leaders to control the state’s measles outbreak, which has hit the Muslim Somali community the hardest.

About 40 percent of Somali 2-year-olds were vaccinated before the outbreak, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. False information suggesting the measles vaccine can cause autism has driven down immunization rates in the Somali community, according to a press release.

Since the outbreak began, hundreds of Somali-Americans have been getting vaccinated every week, said Kris Ehresmann, the infectious disease director for the Health Department.

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Elham Ashkar, who works on community outreach for Children’s Minnesota, said imams in their position of power can help spread the word that vaccination is in the best interest of the public.

“One of the imams, and I’m paraphrasing, he said, ‘If you don’t immunize, it’s like killing the Muslim children,’” Ashkar said. “I think that’s such strong messaging.”

Children’s Minnesota has given Somali community leaders pictures of some of the children in the hospital suffering from measles in hopes the photos serve as a powerful incentive to vaccinate.

“Seeing children — how miserable they are, how dehydrated they are, the extensiveness of the rash,” said Patsy Stinchfield, who oversees care at Children’s Minnesota. “Sharing those photos has been powerful.”

Minnesota has had more measles cases in the past two months than the entire country had all last year. As of Friday, there’ve been 73 cases in this year’s outbreak in Minnesota.