What These Tweets Are Missing About The Latest Measles Outbreak

May 9th 2017

Danielle DeCourcey

Minnesota is facing its worst measles outbreak in 30 years, and conservatives are blaming immigrants for the spread of the highly contagious and serious virus.



In response to news of the outbreak, Ann Coulter, a conservative pundit who consistently makes inflammatory comments about immigrants and minorities, sarcastically tweeted that  "only the best" immigrants are coming to the United States. 

The are at least 48 confirmed cases of measles in Minnesota, the largest outbreak in the U.S. this year. 

Somali immigrants are the primary victims, leading people on Twitter to blame them — and their low vaccination rates — for spreading diseases. 




However, these tweets miss some key aspects of the outbreak. 

Vaccination rates of Somalis living in the Minneapolis area reportedly dropped after representatives from an anti-vaccination film canvassed Somali communities to spread the scientifically debunked myth that vaccines cause autism. Doug Schultz, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Health told the New York Times that vaccinations rate in the Somali community were previously the same or even higher than the white population until 2008.

Activists repeatedly brought Andrew Wakefield, a prominent face of the anti-vaccine movement who is British but now lives in Texas, to talk to Somali parents who were worried about autism. Soon after, the immunization rates fell dramatically.

"We've seen that the vaccine rates in the community that's being affected right now were once about the same or even a little higher than our average. They've dropped to about half of that," David Johnson, program manager with the Hennepin County Health Department told NBC News. "And unfortunately now we are seeing the result. Measles is spreading rapidly in the community and 11 children are hospitalized. And at the same time there is no evidence of any corresponding drop in autism in the community."

In 1998, the British medical journal The Lancet published Wakefield's paper about autism and vaccines, which was eventually rescinded. In 2010, Wakefield lost his medical license because of accusations of fraud involving the experiments in the paper. In 2016 he directed the anti-vaccination film "Vaxxed: From Cover up to Catastrophe," which was initially scheduled to play at the Tribeca film festival with actor and festival organizer Robert De Niro's support, but was pulled after facing national backlash. 

ATTN: talked to Dr. Matthew Zahn, the chair of the Infectious Diseases Society of America's Public Health Committee, about the measles, vaccinations and autism. 

Zahn said unequivocally that the measles vaccine does not cause autism, and there is a "mountain of evidence" that shows autism is not linked to vaccines. 

"There is a lot to be learned about autism," he said. "Autism is a significant issue in this country, but the fact that autism is not caused by vaccines is one thing that we have learned to completeness." 

Zahn said that the common nature of autism and the fear surrounding it allows people like Wakefield to spread misinformation. 

"As a pediatrician I talk with families who struggle with these decisions to vaccinate and the struggle is based on misinformation or nonsense information, purveyed by Dr. Wakefield and others," he said. "It's a false concern but it becomes very hard for people to sort through, even though we know the Measles vaccine does not cause autism." 

If advocates like Wakefield continue to successfully spread misinformation, outbreaks like the one in Minnesota could become more common. 

"Minnesota is living out the nightmare that we have in public health around the country," he said. "In communities around the country there are populations that have much lower immunization rates and, in that situation, if the measles virus is introduced we're going to see a lot more disease."

RELATED: The Cleveland Clinic Is Disciplining a Doctor for Spreading Misinformation About Vaccines