A non-profit that promotes vaccinations in Nevada canceled two events after anti-vaxxers posted harassing comments against the host venues on social media.
Immunize Nevada scheduled two fundraising breakfasts in December to honor health care employees who help with vaccinations. Online harassment and concerns of protesters coming to the events drove the organization to cancel the Reno and Las Vegas events.
"We looked at the whole picture and because we knew that these events were to be celebrations in honor of immunization champions in Nevada, we didn't want there to be any risk," Executive Director Heidi Parker of Immunize Nevada told CNN on Monday.
There has been an "increase in harassment and anti-vax extremist behavior," Parker said. She cited anti-vaccination supporters speaking up at a meeting of Nevada's legislative health care committee, which she spoke at on December 11.
And on the other side of the world, an alleged anti-vaxxer in Samoa was cited for "incitement against the government vaccination order" after a measles outbreak.
"The actions of those targeting vulnerable communities and spreading misinformation on online platforms has serious and real-life consequences; the measles outbreak in Samoa is a tragic example of this," Parker said.
The anti-vaccination comments were posted on the Facebook and Yelp pages of the venues that were hosting the events, Parker said. They were posted as reviews, which drove down the ratings for the businesses on each platform.
Parker said both Facebook and Yelp helped remove the comments quickly. The organization did not report the incidents to police, as it didn't see any personal threats.
"We had no interest in giving anti-science voices an opportunity to spread their caustic message," Parker said in a statement December 18. "Bullying and harassment by anti-vaxxers is happening locally, and unfortunately, we're confronted daily with this reality."
The organization opted for a virtual event called Big Shots Breakfast on December 13 instead of the in-person events. The online event announced award winners from across the state.
The event raised $14,726 to help the non-profit with its mission of educating people about the importance of vaccines and keeping Nevada healthy, the statement said. The money raised will go toward providing free vaccines for those with the greatest need, such as senior citizens, the homeless and families who don't have insurance.
Specific vaccines are required for school students in all 50 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. However, all states have exemptions for students who have medical reasons. Some states, such as Nevada, grant exemptions for families who have religious objections to vaccines.
The number of vaccines administered each year by pharmacists in Nevada has increased by 191% since 2011, according to Immunize Nevada.
"The overwhelming majority of families and adults are vaccinating," Parker said. "We see parents are trusting their health care professionals and the science. They are protecting their children. It's unfortunate that this small minority is causing these problems in their communities."