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Andrew Bostom and WND Mislead on Vaccines and Islam

(Amended post: I originally failed to notice that the WND author had conflated Somali-Americans with Somali refugees)

From WND:

An outbreak of measles is sweeping through a community of Somali refugees in Minnesota and the growing number of cases may be starting to test the limits of the Hennepin County healthcare system.

…Dr. Andrew Bostom, M.D., an academic internist specializing in general internal medicine who has also authored several books about the history of Islam, said Muslim communities often prove difficult to convince that vaccinations are appropriate for their children.

“The case against vaccinations is first an Islamic one,” he said, citing a 2011 article by Dr. Majid Katme, spokesman for the Islamic Medical Association in the United Kingdom.

“We are giving our innocent children haram [forbidden] substances and harmful chemicals that destroy their natural immune systems, causing disease, suffering and death,” Dr. Katme wrote. (1)

The article, by WND‘s Leo Hohmann, was originally titled “Measles Outbreak among Somali Refugees Stretches Minneapolis Health System”, but this has since been amended to “Quran Blamed in New U.S. Disease Outbreak”.

It should be noted that other reports refer to “Somali-Americans” rather than “Somali refugees”, and it seems more likely that this is the case: from the rest of Hohmann’s article, it seems that he has chosen to portray the patients as “refugees” in order to promote Donald Trump’s thwarted travel restriction proposals.

It is the case that measles vaccination rates among Somali-Americans in Minnesota are low – but this is something that is local, and that has happened over the past ten years. It’s theoretically possible that Majid Katme’s view about what is “haram” may have played a role, but if so, neither Hohmann nor Bostom provide any evidence of it, and I’m doubtful.

A more immediate cause appears to be first-hand contact between Somali-Americans in Minnesota and the discredited Dr Andrew Wakefield. Of course, a community might have been predisposed to welcoming Wakefield’s anti-vaccination theories due to a pre-existing religious objection to vaccines, but this seems unlikely to be the case here given that in 2004 the vaccination rate among Minnesota-born Somalis was at 92%.

Ironically, it may be that Somali refugees are better protected: although some vaccine resistance has been reported in Somalia, the authorities have run vaccination programmes without without encountering serious problems. More generally, although Islamists have opposed vaccines in some parts of the Muslim world (as blogged here), the mainstream Muslim view, as expressed by the Islamic Advisory Group for Polio Eradication – and apparently endorsed by the OIC – is that “routine childhood vaccinations” are “a life-saving tool which protects children” and that vaccination “fully conforms to Islamic rulings.”

Somali-Americans in Minnesota are far from being the only group to have shunned the measles vaccine: in one particular case in 2005, a returning missionary from Romania brought measles to churchgoers in Indiana. A subsequent study confirmed that the patients had been concerned “about adverse events, particularly related to media reports of a putative association between vaccinations and autism”.

WND has sent out mixed messages on the subject of vaccines; on the one hand, it has run pieces by a libertarian named Phil Elmore with titles such as “Don’t Buy the Vaccines-Autism Myth”, and in February 2015 it published a column by Ben Carson stating that “there is no substantial risk from vaccines, and… the benefits are very significant”. However, the site’s more typical output has been fearmongering headlines such as “Measles Vaccines Kill more than Measles”, which was followed by “Stunner! Whistleblower Claims Feds Hiding Vaccine-Autism Link” and “Big Pharma-CDC Lie On Vaccines” (among others).

Further, in 2007, WND‘s tie-in print publication Whistleblower ran a special issue on “Scary Medicine: Exposing The Dark Side of Vaccines”. Contributors included one Dr Sherri Tenpenny, who is on the board of directors of the “International Medical Council on Vaccination”. The council has a website, which includes among its resources… the very screed by Majid Katme quoted by Hohmann and Bostom!

UPDATE: ABC News has run a piece on the issue, under the headline “In Minnesota’s Worst Measles Outbreak, a Battle of Beliefs over Vaccines”. It includes the following:

On Sunday, a nonprofit group that has questioned vaccine safety held a meeting for the Somali community [in Minnesota] to advise them about their rights to decline vaccinations based on their beliefs.

Patti Carroll, the director of outreach for the non-profit group called the Vaccine Safety Council of Minnesota, said the goal was to inform parents of their rights and that they could decline recommended vaccinations even during an ongoing measles outbreak.

…Mark Blaxill spoke at the meeting on Sunday, aimed at parents in the Somali community, according to ABC affiliate KSTP, and told parents they could refuse vaccinations and still have their children attend daycare and receive benefits.

WND re-published the first three paragraphs of the article, and provided a link for the rest. However, WND has also changed the headline; while the ABC News report refers to “Somali Minnesotans”, WND headlines the article as “Somali-Muslims at Center of New Vaccine Battle” – thus maintaining the bogus refugee and religion angles while implying that Minnesotans of Somali birth or heritage are not “really” Minnesotans.


(1) Katme actually used the spelling variation haaram, and “forbidden” appears to have been in the original source:

We are giving our innocent children haraam (forbidden) substances and harmful chemicals that destroy their natural immune systems, causing disease, suffering and death.