Somali families gathered Saturday afternoon to learn more about the measles vaccine at an event hosted by CentraCare Health at Midtown Square Mall.
The event came about after CentraCare pediatricians and community health worker Amina Ahmed became concerned about the recent measles outbreak in the U.S., and the potential for illness in Central Minnesota.
Data tells them that vaccination rates are dropping, especially in the Somali population.
So Dr. Denise Lenarz and Ahmed collaborated with the St. Cloud Somali Youth Organization to organize the event.
“We feel a need for education,” Ahmed said.
The Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine is typically given at age one and again before kindergarten. Children can receive vaccinations at little to no cost because it’s preventative.
Ahmed spoke with families and signed them up to come the event.
SCSYO members handed out fliers and spoke with families, encouraging them to come, said director Farhan Abdi.
“We get a lot of people that really want to come and have an opportunity to ask a doctor one-on-one questions,” he said. “A lot of community members are excited that we had this opportunity.”
Ahmed acknowledge some apprehension as well.
“The community has a lot of fear about autism,” she said, thinking the MMR vaccine, which contains the measles vaccine, is a cause.
A study linking the two, and the doctor who authored it, have been extensively discredited, but the rumor persists.
“We want to give them a clinic point of view,” Ahmed said. “So doctors can answer and have a conversation with the community.”
Lenarz said there’s higher rates of autism among the Somali population, so there is a little more fear among families.
They didn’t do any vaccinations at the event.
“We didn’t want to make the families feel like we were pushing them,” Lenarz said.
“They get to choose at the end of the day,” Ahmed said. “We want to get them the information they need when they consider their decision.”
Ahmed arranged bus transportation, which can be a barrier to accessing health care for Somali families. Abdi said organization members also offered transportation options.
Ahmed connects families with health care soon after they arrive in St. Cloud, as part of her job.
She says she deliberately chooses not to talk about the MMR vaccine in those initial visits, because she doesn’t want to deter families from seeking care.
The two are hoping that they can combat some of the rumors with facts.
“As you know, it’s a tight-knit community, where word of mouth spreads very rapidly. We hope to vaccinate one child and hope that they tell five friends, that they did it and it was fine,” Lenarz said. “That will make us happy.”