Abdinasir Fidow, a Somali father of seven living in Minneapolis, had heard of the measles outbreak spreading in his state, the worst flare-up in Minnesota in three decades. But even fear of the potentially deadly virus wasn’t enough to motivate Fidow to inoculate five of his children with the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. “I’m not willing to do that, because I’m scared for the MMR,” Fidow said. “I don’t want to lose another kid again.”
Fidow’s eldest son, Abdullahi, 14, did get the vaccine, over a decade ago. A few months later, Fidow said, Abdullahi was diagnosed with autism and severe intellectual disabilities. Despite all scientific evidence to the contrary, Fidow believes that his son’s diagnosis is directly linked to the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine — a belief shared by Somali parents he knows.
For many in the Somali community, autism is an American-born condition. Those in the neighborhoods around the “Somali Mall” in Minneapolis, a city that houses the largest Somali population in the country, hadn’t even heard the word “autism” before coming to the U.S. from Somalia, where the measles vaccine is also less common. Yet for almost a decade, fewer and fewer Somali children in Minnesota are inoculated because of their parents’ fears, propelled by bad science and anti-vaxxer efforts, of autism diagnoses. Now, Minnesota has seen more measles cases just since April than the entire U.S. in all of 2016. And 84 percent of those cases have occurred in the Somali community, mostly in children.