Measles alert

Signs at a Minneapolis clinic during the measles outbreak.

Mark Zdechlik, MPR News file

Minnesota remains at risk for another measles outbreak, a top state health official told lawmakers Tuesday.

Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease director at the Minnesota Department of Health, leveled the warning during a state Senate committee hearing on public health emergency funding.

In August, the department declared an end to the state’s largest measles outbreak in 30 years. Most of the cases involved unvaccinated Somali-American children.

Despite a push to increase vaccination rates in the Somali-American community during the summer outbreak, Ehresmann said vaccination rates remain extremely low in the Somali community.

“Until vaccination rates in the Somali population improve, we are at risk of a similar situation occurring again,” she said.

Vaccine critics spread false information that the vaccine causes autism, leaving state health officials and Somali community leaders having to battle fear of immunization.

Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, said he thinks health officials have been tone deaf to many of the concerns Somali parents have about vaccinations.

The comments came as lawmakers received an update Tuesday on the $5 million public health contingency account they created last spring.

The state health department made its first request from the fund in July, asking for $613,000 to fight measles, drug-resistant tuberculosis and syphilis. Each outbreak hit a specific minority population.

Ehresmann told members of the Senate health and human services committee that more money was needed to reach the affected groups.

“Communication, outreach and culturally appropriate messaging are really resource intensive,” she said, as are “financial resources for translation and making sure that you’re interacting with the community to get their feedback.”

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