By Vijay Chawla, MD, FAAP; and Sylvia Sekhon, MD, FAAP
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) identified that children of Somali descent who were 24 months of age had an MMR vaccination rate of nearly half that of their non-Somali peers: 46 percent compared to the rate among non-Somali children, which was 88 percent. During the 2017 Minnesota measles outbreak, 65 cases of measles were identified with the majority in unvaccinated persons. U.S.- born Somali children over age 12 months accounted for 55 of the cases.
Since 2017, 37 pediatricians, med-peds physicians and pediatric residents have volunteered to provide immunization education at mosques in Minnesota and answer immunization questions of parents and elders. The outreach is part of the effort by the MNAAP Immunization Taskforce, which is committed to increasing infant, child, and teen immunization rates and decreasing barriers to vaccination.
Improving the Minnesota pediatric immunization rates is one of the four strategic priorities of the MNAAP Board for 2017-2020. New immunization outreach/education sessions at mosques started in January 2019 and are scheduled to continue through June. The hope is that by taking information to the Somali communities throughout Minnesota and by having a dialogue with parents, elders, and religious leaders in the place where they meet weekly, we might be able to change a few minds and protect all our Minnesota children.
Somali resources and tips that are used at these education sessions and are available to clinics include:
• Somali/English version of the childhood immunization schedule from MDH. Order online, at www.health.state.mn.us and searching “immunization order form”.
• Somali/English child development wheel from the Minnesota Department of Education is available free to anyone in the seven-county metro area (and MNAAP has copies to share for greater Minnesota in English, Somali, Hmong, Spanish and Karen). One side of the wheel explains what a parent can do to further child development and the other side lists what skills a child should have starting at age 3 months to age 5 years. Contact Kathy McKay at firstname.lastname@example.org and complete an order form.
While most of our mosque outreach presentations have been in a formal format with speakers sitting behind a table in front of the room, a recent group of women requested that we return to attend a women’s group at the mosque to share food and conversation and all sit together. This is a positive sign that the information is reaching those who need it.