By Nancy Hokkanen
Age of Autism Editor-at-Large Mark Blaxill spoke at a Minnesota community meeting April 30 about that state’s measles outbreak, vaccines, vaccine injury and exemption rights. About 90 members of the Twin Cities’ Somali community attended the event.
The meeting was hosted by the Organic Consumers Association, Vaccine Safety Council of Minnesota, and National Health Freedom Action. Blaxill, other speakers and advocates wanted Somali families to know that Minnesota law gives them “the right to fully informed consent or to opt out of any or all vaccines and still attend daycare, school and receive benefits.”
The free community resource meeting was held at Safari Restaurant & Event Center in Minneapolis. Initially the event was booked at the Brian Coyle Center, but pressure from the Minnesota Department of Health forced it to move (MDH had held its own Somali forum at BCC the previous week).
Despite MDH’s collaboration with local pro-vaccination groups and medical students to influence local media and reduce attendance, the event received TV and newspaper coverage:
The Minneapolis Star Tribune spotlighted Somali parent Ikram Mohamed, who at one point addressed one doctor in the audience: “Measles is a curable disease... but autism is not a curable disease -- it goes on for the rest of their life.”
After the speakers’ presentations, the question-and-answer session gave autism parents an opportunity to talk about how the disorder has affected themselves and their families.
Emotions ran high after one pediatrician claimed twice there is no scientific evidence that the MMR vaccine causes autism; after claiming the meeting was “a travesty,” he was booed by the audience. After he retreated, a woman called him out, saying, “Please, look at me -- do you have a child with autism? Do you? I wish I did not listen with the docs like him. When I took my son to vaccinate him, and I say, is this the autism shot? She said, ‘Baloney.’ I regret that day of my life.... Don’t listen to your doctor.... Listen to your rights. Listen to your mind, what it’s telling you... As a parent, we are the ones suffering – we are the ones dealing with this disease.”
Another Somali mother pleaded fervently with doctors in the audience to listen to parents, rather
than insulting them. Tearfully she spoke of families struggling with as many as five children with autism. Blaxill said he has cried about his child just as Somali parents have – “It motivated me,” he said.
Blaxill brought up the loss of civil public discourse about vaccine policy. “One of the things that has diminished [civil discourse] the most is that when people who are in positions of power abuse their power, or abuse their rights -- people suffer,” Blaxill said. “And that’s the dynamic here. Doctors are powerful. Public health authorities are powerful. parents have rights; families have rights, and that’s what’s important to protect. Because that power can be abused; it often is.”
The topic of financial incentives was raised. “The pediatric profession, the dominant economic function, is the delivery channel for the vaccine program,” Blaxill said. “That is why the vast majority of pediatricians are in practice… A large percentage of pediatric revenue comes from the well-baby visit. And if you took that away, there would be a substantial economic loss.”
Another pediatrician told the audience that she’d recently chosen to inject immunoglobulin into infants too young to be vaccinated, who’d been exposed to measles. She claimed vaccines don’t shed live virus, and insisted that “the bottom line is we do not know what causes autism.” Those statements also were met with boos and rebuttals; the meeting ended shortly thereafter.
Minnesota currently has 32 cases of measles – 30 in the Twin Cities metro area, and two in outlying counties.
On May 5, the University of Minnesota is hosting Autism Initiative Day; the 2:45 pm presentation is “ASD Prevalence Research and Community Engagement with Somali and Immigrant Families.”
[On a personal note: The Star Tribune quoted the pediatrician who vaccinated my infant son: “Dr. Sheldon Berkowitz, who works at a Minneapolis clinic that treats many Somali-American patients, said Blaxill minimized the impact of measles.” A decade ago Dr. Berkowitz was contacted by attorneys about my son’s VICP case, which Special Masters later tossed out as “untimely filed.” Five decades ago I had measles – almost everyone got measles – and public panic was nonexistent. – Nancy Hokkanen]