Muslim Hate of Vaccinations

In Minnesota's worst measles outbreak, a battle of beliefs over vaccines


May 4, 2017
ABC News

An evolving community in the big city of Minneapolis is fighting a dangerous virus -- and a battle of beliefs.

The largest measles outbreak in the Minnesota city in 25 years, this April, affected 34 people primarily between the ages of 0 to 5, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Eleven have been hospitalized.

The majority, 29, of the measles cases were among Somali Minnesotans, according to the state health department, which has been working to improve vaccination rates in their community.

State and local officials have been searching for any other people exposed to the virus –- potentially 3,000 more -- who may be unvaccinated and vulnerable, to try and stop the spread of the disease.

While the overall vaccine compliance rate for Minnesota kindergartners is around 90 percent, it is only about 40 percent in the Somali community, according to Kris Ehresmann, director for infectious disease at the Minnesota Department of Health.

"We've known it's going to be a matter of time before something happens," she said about the recent outbreak.

In 2011, a similar outbreak occurred in the Somali community in Minnesota after a toddler who had visited Kenya contracted the virus. In that outbreak, 19 children and two adults were infected, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state health department.

A report from the American Academy of Pediatrics found that in the Minneapolis Somali community, the vaccination rate had dropped precipitously from over 90 percent in 2004 to 54 percent in 2010, likely helping that outbreak to spread.

Vaccination rates are believed to have dropped over concerns about autism, despite definitive research that refutes a link between vaccines and autism, according to Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and former state epidemiologist.

"Vaccinations have dropped drastically, but autism rates have stayed the same," Osterholm said about the sizable Somali population in Minneapolis.

Osterholm said that some groups who are skeptical about vaccines have expressed distrust in public health officials trying to stop the outbreak. In addition to other concerns, some have said the vaccinations are unnecessary because the measles outbreaks have ended quickly. Osterholm said the reason is the response and "thousands of hours" spent by public health workers to treat the sick and isolate and vaccinate people exposed to the virus.

But advocates for limiting or eliminating vaccinations have encouraged the Somali community in Minneapolis to be skeptical.

On Sunday, a nonprofit group that has questioned vaccine safety held a meeting for the Somali community to advise them about their rights to decline vaccinations based on their beliefs.

Patti Carroll, the director of outreach for the non-profit group called the Vaccine Safety Council of Minnesota, said the goal was to inform parents of their rights and that they could decline recommended vaccinations even during an ongoing measles outbreak.

"There is this huge fear-mongering and frenzy of fear over measles without any information over measles vaccine," Carroll told ABC News. She said the group is not "anti-vaccine," but that they want to bring up potential vaccines risks.

Among the risks she cited is the claim that vaccines are linked to autism, despite numerous academic studies involving millions of children that have found no association between the two. The group's website states their goal is to protect "people from injuries and deaths from vaccines."

Mark Blaxill spoke at the meeting on Sunday, aimed at parents in the Somali community, according to ABC affiliate KSTP, and told parents they could refuse vaccinations and still have their children attend daycare and receive benefits.

"The vaccination schedule for children in this country has exploded since 1986," Blaxill said, according to KSTP. "And we simply do not know all of the possible negative side effects of these vaccines as a collective group of immunizations."

Carroll said about 90 people from the Somali community were at the meeting and the group is planning further outreach.

While endemic measles was declared eradicated in the U.S. in 2000, there have been multiple outbreaks of the disease infecting hundreds in states such as Ohio and California, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported.

Ehresmann said they believe about 3,000 people have been exposed to the virus and they are trying to reach out to unvaccinated people to offer vaccines or other interventions and give them guidance.

"I think it's fair to say we're expecting to see more cases," she told ABC News.

The measles virus is one of the most infectious diseases, able to infect 90 percent of unimmunized people who are exposed to it, according to the CDC.

Ehresmann said that public health department officials are focused on engaging with the community directly and continuing investigative work to diminish the spread of the outbreak.

"We're not specifically working to counteract specific things that are said because we don't want to add credibility to the argument," Ehresmann said about the non-profit's recent meeting.

One of the most important messages the community should understand, public health experts say, is that vaccinations are for everyone.

"We vaccinate our own kids and grandkids," Osterholm said about people working in public health. "It's not do as I say it's do as I do."

The current measles vaccine schedule recommended by the CDC is supported by numerous medical organizations, including the American Academy of Family Physicians and American Academy of Pediatrics.

Suicide Attack on Pakistan Polio Vaccination Center Kills 15


JAN. 13, 2016

QUETTA, Pakistan — A suicide attack on a polio vaccination center in southwestern Pakistan on Wednesday killed 15 people, mainly policemen gathered to escort health workers, officials said. It was the latest attack on the vaccination campaign and health workers have been repeatedly targeted in recent years by Islamic militants.

The bombing on the outskirts of the city Quetta killed 13 policemen, a soldier and a civilian, said Shahzada Farhat, a police spokesman. He said 23 people were wounded.

The suicide bomber detonated his explosives among the police officers, said provincial home minister Sarfraz Bugti. "We're in a war zone," he added.

The bombing happened outside the polio center shortly before vaccination teams were due to be dispatched to local neighborhoods as part of a three-day immunization campaign, said Syed Imtiaz Shah, the local police chief.

Hours after the attack, Ahmad Marwat, who described himself as a spokesman for Jundullah, or Army of God, a little-known militant group, claimed responsibility for the assault, without explaining why the center was targeted. He warned of more attacks on polio teams in the future.

Polio workers in Pakistan, and their police escorts, have been targeted in recent years by Islamic militants who accuse them of working as spies for the United States.

The attacks intensified after a Pakistani doctor was arrested on charges of running a fake hepatitis vaccination campaign in the city of Abbottabad as a cover for a CIA-backed effort to obtain DNA samples from Osama bin Laden ahead of the 2011 U.S. raid that killed him.

Pakistan is one of three countries in the world where polio is endemic, and the attacks have hindered vaccination campaigns. Some Pakistanis are also suspicious about the vaccinations, fearing it will sterilize their children.

Shah, the police chief, said the security forces were the primary target of Wednesday's attack. He spoke to reporters from the scene, which was strewn with blood and debris, as rescuers took the wounded to hospitals.

Quetta is the capital of southwestern Baluchistan province, where a low-level insurgency has long been waged by Baloch separatist groups demanding a greater share of the region's natural resources or outright independence.

Al-Qaida, the Taliban and other Sunni militant groups are also active in the region. Tens of thousands have been killed in Pakistan over the past decade in attacks mainly targeting security forces and the country's Shiite minority.

Meanwhile, an unidentified man threw a firecracker at Pakistan's independent ARY news channel in Islamabad on Wednesday, wounding an employee.

ARY said the attacker fled but left behind a leaflet purportedly from the Islamic State group, warning of more attacks against media that broadcast what it said were army's biased claims in operations against militants.

Vulnerable Khyber Agency: Polio volunteers pull out in wake of latest murder

By Asad Zia
Published: December 23, 2013

Volunteer polio vaccinators have backed away from the next immunisation drive in Khyber Agency after the murder of anti-polio campaign supervisor Ghilaf Khan on Saturday in Jamrud.  Without their assistance, thousands of children will remain unprotected against the crippling virus.

Volunteers and Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) staff have been gripped by fear after Ghilaf was targeted, Dr Usman Afridi, field supervisory medical officer for the EPI, told The Express Tribune.

He said 328 mobile teams – each comprising 2 volunteers – were meant to be part of the polio campaign in the agency. “But after the incident on Saturday, the volunteers have quit, saying their lives are at risk,” he said.

According to Afridi, volunteers’ pulling out midway through the anti-polio drive would mean thousands of children would not be immunised against polio in Khyber Agency.

Ghilaf was the fourth polio volunteer targeted in the month of December in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

On December 13, polio worker Yousaf Khan was gunned down, also in Jamrud, Khyber Agency. Yousaf was on his way home from fieldwork when he was murdered. The same day, two policemen were gunned down in Swabi while they were on escort duty with polio immunisation team.

With what seems to be a successful guerrilla war on hapless polio workers, forms of soft power are being used to cajole wary parents, fearful workers and recalcitrant local religious figures to help increase the rate of vaccinations.

After Ghilaf’s death, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan said he would not be scared into abandoning the issue of polio vaccinations. Imran had recently kicked off an inoculation campaign in the K-P.

Also, Maulana Samiul Haq of Darul Uloom Haqqania issued a decree recently, urging parents to immunise their children against polio. He announced the vaccination used is “Shariah compliant.”

Yet, 17,138 refusal cases were reported during December 19 -21 polio vaccination drive held across nine districts of the province, a K-P health department official told The Express Tribune.

He said 5,193 refusal cases were reported from Bannu, 4,280 from Lakki Marwat, 3,234 from Nowshera, 2,265 from Mardan, 1,508 from Peshawar, 368 from Hangu, 170 from Tank, 109 from Kohat, and 11 from Karak.

The official said while the department faced mounting pressure from the government, the militants – on the flip side – were taking it out on polio teams, one worker at a time.

The EPI personnel feel compelled to quit in the face of security risks and high pressure. Even with additional security and money, volunteers and teachers who double as vaccinators are not willing to take part in the campaign. This leaves the department in a quandary, he said.

Without resolving security issues, poliovirus cannot be eradicated from Pakistan, stated the official. According to an EPI official, Pakistan has recorded 77 polio cases in 2013, compared to 58 in 2012.

About Ghilaf Khan

Speaking of the late supervisor, Ghilaf Khan, the EPI field supervisory medical officer Dr Usman Afridi said Ghilaf had left behind his widow and three sons. According to Afridi, Ghilaf was known for his honesty and punctuality. Ghilaf joined the EPI in May 2011 as a supervisor and was a resident of Bara tehsil.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 23rd, 2013.

Nigerian reporters, cleric held after polio clinic killings

Their comments incited violence, police allege

By Salisu Rabiu
FEBRUARY 13, 2013

KANO, Nigeria — Police in northern Nigeria arrested and charged two radio journalists and a local cleric alleged to have sparked the killings of at least nine women gunned down while trying to administer polio vaccines, officials said Tuesday. Police asserted that their on-air comments about a vaccination campaign in the area inflamed the region and caused the attacks.

The allegations against the journalists working for Wazobia FM show the continuing struggle over free speech in Nigeria, a nation that came out of military rule only in 1999 and where simply taking photographs on the street can get a person arrested. Though Nigeria has a rambunctious free press, threats and attacks against journalists remain common, and unsolved killings of reporters still haunt the country.

On Friday in Kano, the largest city in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north, gunmen in three-wheel taxis attacked women preparing to give the oral-drop vaccines to children, killing at least nine, police said. Witnesses later said they saw at least 12 dead from the attack. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, though suspicion immediately fell on the sect known as Boko Haram, which is waging a campaign of guerrilla shootings and bombings across northern Nigeria.

A few days before the killings, Wazobia FM aired a program in which presenters talked about how one of the station’s journalists had been attacked by local officials and had his equipment confiscated after coming upon a man who refused to allow his children to be vaccinated. The journalists and the cleric on the program apparently discussed the fears people have about the vaccine, which then spread through the city.

Kano state police commissioner Ibrahim Idris ordered the journalists and the cleric arrested immediately after Friday’s attack.

Initially, Idris said the journalists would face charges of ‘‘culpable homicide’’ over the polio workers’ deaths. Those charges can carry the death penalty. However, at an arraignment hearing Tuesday afternoon, prosecutors brought lesser charges that included conspiracy, inciting a disturbance, and obstruction of a public servant. Magistrate Ibrahim Bello ordered a follow-up hearing Thursday.

Onimisi Adaba, operation manager for Wazobia FM and its sister stations, later said that the radio group was ‘‘fully aware of the situation.’’

‘‘We are presently attending to the matter,’’ Adaba said. He declined to comment further.

There have long been suspicions about the polio vaccine in northern Nigeria, with people believing the drops would sterilize young girls.

In 2003, a Kano physician heading the Supreme Council for Shariah in Nigeria said the vaccines were ‘‘corrupted and tainted by evildoers from America and their Western allies.’’ That led to hundreds of new infections in children across the north, where beggars on locally made wooden skateboards drag their withered legs back and forth in traffic, begging for alms. The 2003 disease outbreak in Nigeria eventually spread throughout the world, even causing infections in Indonesia.

Today, Nigeria is one of only three countries where polio remains endemic, the others being Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Gunmen kill 5 women working on polio campaign opposed by Taliban in Pakistan

By Associated Press
December 17, 2012

KARACHI, Pakistan — Gunmen shot dead five women working on U.N.-backed polio vaccination efforts in two different Pakistani cities on Tuesday, officials said, a major setback for a campaign that international health officials consider vital to contain the crippling disease but which Taliban insurgents say is a cover for espionage.

Pakistan is one of only three countries where polio is endemic. Militants however accuse health workers of acting as spies for the U.S. and claim the vaccine makes children sterile. Taliban commanders in the troubled northwest tribal region have also said vaccinations can’t go forward until the U.S. stops drone strikes in the country.

Insurgent opposition to the campaign grew last year after it was revealed that a Pakistani doctor ran a fake vaccination program to help the CIA track down al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden, who was hiding in the town of Abbottabad in the country’s northwest.

The Taliban have targeted previous anti-polio campaigns, but this has been a particularly deadly week. The government is in the middle of a three-day vaccination drive targeting high risk areas of the country as part of an effort to immunize millions of children under the age of five.

“Such attacks deprive Pakistan’s most vulnerable populations — especially children — of basic life-saving health interventions,” said a statement jointly released by the government and the U.N. “We call on the leaders of the affected communities and everyone concerned to do their utmost to protect health workers and create a secure environment so that we can meet the health needs of the children of Pakistan.”

The women who were killed Tuesday — three of whom were teenagers — were all shot in the head at close range. Four of them were gunned down in the southern port city of Karachi, and the fifth in a village outside the northwest city of Peshawar. Two men who were working alongside the women were also critically wounded in Karachi.

The attacks in Karachi were well-coordinated and occurred within 15 minutes in three different areas of the city that are far apart, said police spokesman Imran Shoukat. In each case, the gunmen used 9 millimeter pistols. Two of the women were teenagers, aged 18 and 19, and the other two were in their 40s, he said.

Two of the women were killed while they were in a house giving children polio drops, said Shoukat. The other two were traveling between houses when they were attacked, he said.

On Monday another person working on the anti-polio campaign, a male volunteer, was gunned down in Karachi. Taliban militants also killed three soldiers in an ambush of an army convoy escorting a vaccination team in the northwest.

Officials in Karachi responded to the attacks by suspending the vaccination campaign in the city, said Sagheer Ahmed, the health minister for surrounding Sindh province. The campaign started on Monday and was supposed to run through Wednesday, he said.

Immunization was suspended in Karachi in July as well after a local volunteer was shot to death and two U.N. staff were wounded.