- The widening spread of the new coronavirus in the U.S. and Europe could disrupt major medical association meetings, particularly as research institutions and pharmaceutical companies place restrictions on employee travel.
- The major health IT conference put on by HIMSS was canceled late last week for the first time in nearly 60 years. Organizers say they're now working on a virtual edition of the event. America's Health Insurance Plans has called off its national health policy conference planned for next week. The American College of Healthcare Executives also canceled its annual event, as did the American College of Cardiology.
- Other gatherings are still going forward, at least for now. The World Health Care Congress is still planned to begin March 29, though organizers said they "will continue to monitor developments around COVID-19." The American Association of Cancer Research said last week it is exploring "all available options" for its annual meeting should conditions not improve, including virtual presentations or postponing the event.
In its decision, HIMSS cited concerns over potentially exposing the many healthcare professionals who attend the conference to the new coronavirus, now called SARS-CoV-2.
Medical associations holding annual meetings this spring could face a similar choice. Conferences like the annual meetings of the AACR or the American Academy of Neurology regularly draw tens of thousands of scientists, physicians and industry researchers for days of presentations on clinical practice and new study results.
The public health risk of large gatherings has grown as the virus spreads, pushing conference organizers to consider taking precautions. More than 500 people in the U.S. have been confirmed to be infected as of Monday, although problems with testing kits have delayed detection efforts in the country. Widespread outbreaks are also ongoing in China and other foreign countries, including Italy, South Korea, Iran and Japan, prompting governments to put in place travel restrictions.
Limits on employee travel, meanwhile, are being put in place at U.S. institutions like the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, as well as at major pharmaceutical companies like AbbVie and Amgen.
"We were recently made aware that several stakeholders, including cancer centers, academic institutions, and pharmaceutical companies, are considering or have instituted temporary travel restrictions that, if unchanged, would prevent their employees from attending or presenting at the Annual Meeting," AACR said in its Thursday statement.
As of Friday, AACR was still planning to hold its meeting, but the association cautioned the situation could change quickly.
The spring and early summer features a number of other major medical conferences, including gatherings held by AAN and the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
Upcoming medical meetings in the U.S. and Europe
|EASL||London||Apr. 15 - Apr. 19|
|AACR||San Diego||Apr. 24 - Apr. 29|
|AAN||Toronto||Apr. 25 - May 1|
|ASGCT||Boston||May 12 - May 15|
|ASCO||Chicago||May 29 - Jun. 2|
|BIO||San Diego||Jun. 8 - Jun. 11|
|EHA||Frankfurt||Jun. 11 - Jun. 14|
|ADA||Chicago||Jun. 12 - Jun. 16|
AHIP said it was acting out of an abundance of caution in canceling its policy conference and the concurrent National Conference on the Individual and Small Group Market scheduled for March 18. "The health and safety of our conference speakers, attendees, and staff come first," AHIP CEO Matt Eyles said in a statement. "That's why we are taking this proactive, preventative action."
One smaller meeting, the annual conference held by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, has already been canceled. Scheduled for late March, the meeting was expected to draw some 1,500 attendees.
"Under the current circumstances, due diligence means thoughtfully curtailing any non-essential travel or gatherings for people across the oncology care ecosystem," Ronald Walters, chair of the NCCN board of directors, said in a statement.
Even small gatherings of people can risk the spread of SARS-CoV-2, which appears to be highly infectious. Three Biogen employees, for example, were recently confirmed to have been infected after attending a meeting of 175 people in Boston last week.