Vaccine skeptics appointed to new Minnesota council on autism

Vaccine skeptics appointed to new Minnesota council on autism
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Two vaccine skeptics have been appointed to a new Minnesota state council on autism, alarming public health advocates who worry they will promote the hoax linking vaccines to autism.

The MN Autism Council, formed last year by Republican state Sen. Jim Abeler, was aimed at advising the Minnesota Legislature on autism and public policy. But the makeup of the council is raising concerns, The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported Thursday.

Two of the more than 30 members on the council are well-known members of the anti-vaccination movement.

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Wayne Rohde, co-founder of the Vaccine Safety Council of Minnesota, was one of the initial three members selected by Abeler to form the group. Rohde and Patti Carroll both serve on the new state committee and are also on the executive leadership team for an organization called Health Choice which aims to keep vaccines optional, the newspaper reported.

People who question the safety of vaccines are “quickly marginalized” as “anti-vax,” Rohde told the outlet.

His son is on the autism spectrum and although Rohde wishes to defend a parent’s decision not to vaccinate their children, he said that topic will not be discussed in the MN Autism Council.

“We’re not about causation within the council. The council is all about how to deal and help those who are afflicted, and their families and those who provide services,” said Rohde.

Idil Abdull, a longtime autism advocate, told the Star-Tribune that she was disappointed that Abeler has vaccine skeptics on the council. She served on the previous task force for autism that was disbanded in 2014.

“The fact that he appointed so many people from the anti-vaccine community who will try to divide us is heartbreaking,” Abdull said.

Abeler started the council’s Wednesday meeting by declaring that the commission is not for or against vaccines.

“I’d suggest we don’t discuss that anytime soon, or maybe never,” he said.

The modern anti-vaccination movement has persisted despite research debunking the myth that vaccines are linked to autism.

The World Health Organization has listed “vaccine hesitancy” as one of the 10 threats to global health in 2019, specifically noting a 30 percent rise of measles cases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said two doses of the MMR vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella is about 97 percent effective at preventing the illness. 

Outbreaks of measles have been spreading across the country, particularly in anti-vaccination communities.

Officials in Washington declared a public health emergency among one such “hot spot” near Portland where 20 out of 23 confirmed measles cases were contracted by people who were not vaccinated.

New York City is also battling its most severe outbreak of the disease in decades, with 182 confirmed cases as of last Thursday. The New York Times reported last week that the outbreak is almost exclusively among the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

There were a total of 349 confirmed measles cases across 26 states and the District of Columbia last year — the second highest number since 2000, according to the CDC. There were 667 cases reported in 2014.