ICI's Gulaid Among Panelists for Voice of America Town Hall on Autism and Vaccines
Anab Gulaid, a public health expert at ICI, was a panelist for Vaccine and Autism: Myths and Facts, a recent town hall forum held to address Somali parents' concerns about the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine, autism, and the measles outbreak affecting the Twin Cities' Somali community. Held on July 8 at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs, the forum was hosted by the Humphrey School and the Voice of America news network, which broadcast the two panel discussions - one in Somali and one in English - to its worldwide audience. The gathering, which was covered by numerous media (e.g., Minnesota Public Radio, Fox 9 News), was prompted by the measles outbreak tied to low MMR vaccination rates among Minnesota's Somali community.
Gulaid shared the Somali-language panel with a local imam, a family doctor, and a registered nurse consultant from the Minnesota Department of Health. Parents in the audience asked if injecting young children with the MMR vaccine was linked to autism - a common misperception in the Somali community that panelists sought to dispel. Gulaid, herself a Somali American parent and researcher who has worked on health issues in her community for more than a decade, said some parents, fearing autism, still hesitate to vaccinate their children. Gulaid recommended further investment in outreach, vaccine education, and research to learn more about autism. Overcoming skepticism in the close-knit community is a slow process, but she sees community leaders gradually persuading parents about the benefits and safety of vaccines. "We have faith leaders who want to know what they can support," she said. "What I have seen is people want to know how they can help and get the message out in the community not only about what's going on, but also about the importance of vaccines." She also highlighted the results of ICI's Minneapolis Somali Autism Spectrum Disorder Prevalence Project from 2013, a project that studied autism prevalence among Minneapolis children to determine whether children of Somali descent have higher rates of autism than non-Somali children, and the current Minnesota Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network (MN-ADDM), which follows-up on that earlier study.