Officials in Minnesota have appointed anti-vaccine advocates to a newly formed state council on autism, sparking controversy in the wake of a record measles outbreak in the state.
State senator Jim Abeler formed the MN Autism Council last fall to address issues surrounding autism, including “treatment, educational options, employment opportunities, independent living, and more.
Though the council is not designed to take up the issue of vaccination, it has been ensnared in controversy due to the anti-vaccine sentiments it includes, according to a report in the Minneapolis . At least two of the council’s more than 30 members are skeptical of vaccine safety and oppose compulsory immunizations. One of those skeptical members, Wayne Rohde, was one of three initial people Abeler appointed to the council. Rohde was charged with helping to shape the council and with picking other members.
Rohde is a cofounder of the Vaccine Safety Council of Minnesota, which promotes the notion that vaccines are harmful despite extensive scientific data indicating that they’re safe. He is also as an executive for Health Choice, which advocates that chronic health conditions in children are caused by “unhealthy choices” including “side effects of vaccine choices.” Another council member, Patti Carroll, is also part of both groups.
Rohde has argued to the that the ties aren’t relevant. “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,” he said.
But autism advocates and other council members disagree. “Even if it’s not something that’s discussed or that a policy is going to come out of, giving them this large contingency on this council is dangerous. It’s giving credence to a theory that’s false,” council member Noah McCourt told the . McCourt is an autism advocate who also serves on the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities.
The state of Minnesota has been a battleground for anti-vaccine sentiments. For years, anti-vaccine advocates had pounced on fears of autism there, largely in the state’s Somali immigrant communities. This fueled a measles outbreak in 2017, which was largest the state had seen in decades.