Unvaccinated children are being asked to stay away from large gatherings, including school functions.A measles outbreak in Minnesota has affected 69 people. A large proportion, 59 of them, are Somali Muslim children, a majority of whom continue to remain unvaccinated.
The Minnesota Department of Health is has been working beyond their normal hours since April. The MDH has investigated over 8,000 probable exposures. According to Lynn Bahta of MDH, there has not been a case of measles recorded in Rochester since 1989, though it has the biggest Somali population, numbering about 5,000.
This could change because Ramadan has already started. This may create a new set of problems for the Somali community. The holy month for Muslims will run for about 29 days, culminating in the Eid al-Fitr ceremonial feast. This religious tradition commemorates the revealing of the Quran to Prophet Muhammad. It includes severe piety, fasting from dawn to dusk and feasts in the night. The last activity is a matter of concern to many local and state health officials, as big gatherings create a potential for increased exposure to measles.
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Imam Sharif Mohamed, an Islamic Civic Society of America leader, said he is offer masks at his Minneapolis mosque. He said many religious leaders like him are encouraging unvaccinated children to stay at home during Ramadan time. Many religious leaders are creating messages suitable for their congregation. The main idea is to get vaccinated. Nusheen Ameenuddin from the Mayo Clinic has developed a pro-active approach for getting the message across to Somali vaccine skeptics.
MDH has asked for an additional $5 million dollars to support the efforts. June could be a critical period to inhibit such an outbreak. Measles is a fatal disease which is also extremely contagious. This can be a matter of great concern when vaccination rates within the Somali community have dropped from approximately 90 percent to only 42 percent during the previous decade. Many Somali parents have declined to vaccinate their children for unfounded autism fears. The MMR shot has shown to be 97 percent effective in the fight against measles.
According to Bahta, parents with unvaccinated children have been asked to keep their children at home, and away from big gatherings and school functions. This is almost impossible to do so during the time of Ramadan. The Somalis have started to be receptive to such messages, clearly seen by the 16-fold increase in taking the vaccination shots post outbreak.