A national speaker who believes there are links between vaccines and autism told a group of Somali-American parents Sunday night that they should choose whether to vaccinate their children by weighing risks and benefits.
He also said the government has lied in its previous vaccine research and that the danger of measles is overstated.
About 90 people met at Safari Restaurant in Minneapolis to hear Mark Blaxill, an editor of a website about what it calls “the autism epidemic,” present information on measles outbreaks, autism rates and what he said were the fraudulent results of a 2004 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the link between autism and vaccines, a theory that health officials have debunked.
“It should be the right of every parent and family to make their own decisions,” said Blaxill.
Blaxill’s visit comes in the midst of Minnesota’s second measles outbreak in seven years. As of Sunday morning, there were 32 cases of measles in Minnesota, including instances in Ramsey and Stearns counties as well as Hennepin County, where the majority are concentrated.
The Minnesota Department of Health says “all Minnesota children 12 months and older who have not received a measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine should get it now.”
Public health officials have said vaccination rates among Somali-Americans have fallen in recent years as more parents opt out due to autism fears.
Minnesota Department of Health officials have been trying to reverse the drop in immunization rates among that demographic through education, relying on community leaders to build trust and overcome doubt.
Twenty-eight of the confirmed cases have been among Somali-American children under age 5, all of whom are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated against the highly communicable disease.
Blaxill — who says that he’s not anti-vaccine — also explained Minnesota law and how parents can opt out of vaccinations, providing forms and access to a notary public for parents. Several nonprofits advocating parental choice in vaccinations were present, including the Minnesota Vaccine Safety Council, Health Choice and National Health Freedom Coalition.
Others in the audience forcefully disputed the idea that vaccination causes autism, including a group of pediatricians.
Dr. Sheldon Berkowitz, who works at a Minneapolis clinic that treats many Somali-American patients, said Blaxill minimized the seriousness of measles.
“They’re our families,” said Paula Mackey, who works at the same clinic. “[Somali parents] are just trying to do what is right for their children, and this misinformation is hurting them.”
Attendees Sunday night had varied opinions about vaccines and autism, despite the fact that any link has been thoroughly discredited by the scientific community.
Measles can be dangerous, said parent Ikram Mohamed, but the illness only lasts a short time.
In contrast, “Autism is not a curable disease,” said Mohamed, as several Somali-American mothers in the front row cheered her on.
Mohamed, a mother of five who said she had delayed vaccination in four of her children due to fears about autism, said doctors need to inform parents that they can delay or opt out of vaccines.
Daub Hussein said he came to get more information about a topic that’s controversial not just for Somali-Americans, but for many African immigrant groups.
The meeting venue was changed just hours before the event from the Brian Coyle Community Center to the Somali restaurant located off Lake Street, which some said hurt attendance.
Somali Man charged the deaths of 4 in fatal I-55 accident
STAUTON, IL – A Colorado truck driver has been charged following an investigation into a multi-vehicle accident that killed 4 people and injured 11 others. Mohamed Jama, 54, of Greeley, Colorado, turned himself in to the Madison County Jail Monday.
The accident happened on southbound I-55 in Madison County on November 21, 2017.
The fatal accident killed 2 sisters, Madisen and Hailey Bertels and a friend, Tori Carroll, and an out of state woman, Vivian Vu in another vehicle.
Authorities say the accident occurred when a tractor-trailer driven by Mohamed Jama failed to slow down and stop for cars in front of him in a construction zone.
By the time it was all over, 7 vehicles were damaged and the people inside them injured or killed.
The sisters attended high school in Staunton.
The deaths deeply touched Staunton where people knew the young women or knew people who were their friends. Many in town were still grieving the loss. Matthew Batson said, “I’ll hear stories about them all the time, even though it’s been five months? Yes, it’s a lasting effect.”
The Madison County State`s Attorney Tom Gibbon said if convicted of all the crimes Mohamed Jama could spend the rest of his life in prison. With summer coming on and more construction zone Gibbons says there`s a warning for all of us.
“Each of us out there in our cars we really need to pay attention, watch out, slow down you never want to see something like this to happen again it so terrible for all the victim I’m sure that no person would want to be the cause of something like this.”
Jama is charged with 4 counts of reckless homicide and 8 counts of reckless driving. He`s being held in the Madison County Jail without bond.
CANADA: Edmonton author aims to boost diversity in children’s book publishing
EDMONTON—Two years ago Rahma Mohamed’s then four-year-old daughter saw an Elsa costume, complete with blond braids, and pleaded with her mother to buy it so she would look “beautiful.”
That’s when Mohamed decided her kids needed more cultural inspiration than the blond princess from Frozen.
After a year of work, the first-time author published Muhima’s Quest, a children’s book that tells the story of a young African-America Muslim girl who wakes up on her 10th birthday and goes on a journey.
Now, Mohamed’s at work on her second book, which is due out at the end of the month. She’s on a journey of her own, she said, to boost diversity in children’s publishing.
“I wanted to create a character who had African descent and is a Muslim in a children’s book because I just found out that there were none that were available in the mainstream,” she said.
Her books show kids it’s OK to be different, she said. Take her first book: some Muslims don’t celebrate birthdays, she explains, and the little girl in the book struggles with her faith and questions why she doesn’t celebrate like her classmates do.
“The overall message is that we do things differently, but that part is what makes us beautiful,” Mohamed said.
She said she felt it necessary for her kids to see themselves represented in the books they read in order to “enhance their self-confidence, as well as bolster their sense of pride.”
Mohamed, who writes under the pen name Rahma Rodaah, self-published her first book and since last summer, has sold 200 copies locally.
“It does take a lot of resources and you have to self-finance, but I believe in the end it’s worth it,” she said.
She hopes to go bigger with her second book, which focuses on the universal concept of sibling rivalry, and features a young girl who plans on selling her little brother because she believes he is getting all the attention.
“My overall goal is to portray Muslim Africans who are basically a normal family.”
Mohamed says her previous book was well-received by parents at readings she had done at public libraries and schools.
“Most of them who are Muslims really loved that the kids could identify with the characters,” she said.
The books also acted as a conversation starter for non-Muslim families, she said.
She said, for her, the most exciting part of the journey is knowing that she is making a difference in shaping the minds of young Black Muslims.
“We are underrepresented, misunderstood and mostly mischaracterized. It is time we paint a different picture.”
When radicalization lured two Somali teenagers … from Norway
Acclaimed Norwegian journalist Åsne Seierstad spent years researching what happened. Now her book, “Two Sisters: Into the Syrian Jihad” is available in the United States.
Seierstad, who discusses her book Monday night at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, said she didn’t go looking for the story.
“The story actually came to me,” she said. “It was the father of the girls who actually wanted the story to be written.”
His name is Sadiq, a Somali man who worked for years to bring his family to Norway. He hoped for a better life. He thought things were going well, then everything collapsed when Ayan and Leila disappeared.
When the girls left home, their parents were in shock, Seierstad said. “They hadn’t understood what was this about. Why? And then as months went by and they got to learn more about radicalization, they realized that all the signs had been there. That the girls were like a textbook case of radicalization. And he [Sadiq] wanted the book to be written to warn others, to tell this story to warn other parents.”
It is a perplexing story. Ayan and Leila were bright, and opinionated. They didn’t put up with being pushed around.
“And that is somehow part of why they left, in their logic,” said Seierstad, adding that the girls were convinced Syria and ISIS offered a chance of eternal life.
“They believed that life here and now is not real life. Real life happens after death. And this life is only important as a test. So the better your score, the better you behave in this life, the better position you will have in heaven for eternity. So isn’t that better?”
Seierstad is known for her in-depth reporting. Her book “One of Us,” about Anders Breivik, the gunman who killed 77 people in Norway’s worst terror attack, is an international best-seller.
When published in Norway Seierstad said, “Two Sisters” became the top-selling book for two years running. What pleases her most is the breadth of her readership. She gets email from young Somali girls, and also from government officials who want to prevent future radicalization.