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Vaccines Challenged At Twin Cities Measles Meeting

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- As the measles outbreak numbers continue to climb in Minnesota, several groups concerned about vaccines are reaching out to communities affected by the virus.

The Vaccine Safety Council of Minnesota helped organize a public meeting specifically targeting the Somali community. The state health department reports that of 32 cases in the state, 28 involve Somali children.

State health officials said the community has been targeted with misinformation about the dangers of vaccines.

The organizers of Sunday's event at Safari Restaurant and Event Center said its purpose was to inform families about the concerns surrounding measles, vaccines, the state's vaccine exemption rights and then allow families to make their own decisions.

"Definitely I was very concerned in the beginning," said parent Rukia Abei when asked how she felt about vaccines. She was worried about the potential for her children to get autism, but later changed her stance and let them get vaccinated.

"But mainly because I'm able to do a lot of research and learn more about it myself. But there isn't a lot of accurate information for the general community," she said.

Sunday's meeting, hosted by several vaccine-concerned groups, aimed to change that.

"The parent's job is not to stop or to stop this disease or that disease. The parent's job is to have a healthy child," said Mark Blaxhill, chairman of Health Choice, a non-profit focused on health choices and preventing chronic illnesses.

He has a child with autism. He said he doesn't know what caused his daughter to have it, however he said she was developing normally and then regressed.

"She got the whole schedule (of vaccines) on schedule and her outcome wasn't a good one," he said.

Blaxhill was the key speaker at the event, showcasing research on measles and vaccines associated with it. He said he's not anti-vaccine but critical of government vaccine policies.

"I think every vaccine has risks and benefits and I think the MMR is just like all of those," he said. "I want to make sure that if they make a decision about vaccination that they have all the information they need to give informed consent and not to be bullied into making a decision that they're not comfortable with but also to make a decision that if they choose to vaccinate that they make freely."

The state health department has been urging families, especially those in the Somali community, to get their children vaccinated. It has also said that the Somali community has been targeted by misinformation regarding vaccines and autism.

Abidirizak Bihi, a Somali community activist, said trying to convince Somali families to get their children vaccinated has been a challenge. Abei understands the struggle.

"There's a lot of people in the community who are not anti-vaccine but they just need more information," she said.

Of the 32 confirmed cases of measles, the state department of health reports 31 of them were not vaccinated. All cases involve children 5 years old and younger.

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