The novel coronavirus, also known as COVID19, is prompting major medical societies and healthcare organizations to cancel conferences and events around the world.

The decision to cancel conferences and events is in most cases based on recent reports from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of rapidly escalating concerns about the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

So far, several have been called off entirely, including the Annual Meetings of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), the international health information and technology event originally scheduled to take place in Orlando, Fl, March 9 – 13, 2020, and the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) scheduled for April 24-29, 2020 in San Diego, California.

In addition, over the last week, a number of major medical societies around the world have canceled their conferences or are considering to do so, while, at the same time, reviewing the health risk and travel warnings and considering the economic and educational effects of canceling or postponing their events. Some are transforming their meetings in a digital event, guaranteeing educational continuance.

For example, while the organizers of the 2020 HIMSS Global Health Conference & Exhibition are planning a special digital edition of their Annual Meeting and make all of the scheduled sessions and panels available online, the AACR is expected to reschedule the meeting for later this year.

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Cancelled meetings
While a complete overview of canceled meetings is not easily available, a quick review of major medical society’s websites shows the following meetings have been postponed*:

  • American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) originally scheduled to be held in Denver, Co, March 20-24, 2020. On its website the organizers of the meeting write that in the coming weeks they: “…. will tap into the innovative and agile spirit of this specialty to explore virtual meeting options that deliver world-class education, spotlight dermatology’s innovation, and celebrate the many achievements [they had] had planned to recognize in Denver.
  • National Kidney Foundation (NKF) in New Orleans, LA., has converted its 2020 Spring Clinical Meetings (SCM) to a Live-Virtual Meeting to a “live-virtual meeting.” The meeting is scheduled for March 25-29, 2020.
  • Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) has canceled the 6th Decennial International Conference on Healthcare-Associated Infections originally scheduled to be held in Atlanta, Ga., March 26-31, 2020.
  • Endocrine Society (ENDO) originally scheduled to be held in San Francisco. It had been scheduled for March 28-31, 2020. On its website, the organizers write that they are working hard in developing virtual options that will allow for the dissemination of the critical science and education.
  • Society of Gynecologic Oncology (SGO) originally scheduled to be held in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, March 28-31, 2020. According to the SGO’s website, the organization is “exploring alternatives for delivering the science and education.” The SGO 20/20 meeting would have been the first meeting of the organization outside the United States.
  • American College of Physicians Internal Medicine (ACP IM) originally scheduled to be held in Los Angeles, April 23-25, 2020. On its website, the ACP, the largest medical specialty organization in the United States with 159,000 members in more than 145 countries worldwide, writes that the organization recognizes its professional responsibility to consider the safety of its meeting participants by modeling social distancing and not contributing to the spread of the virus through a large public gathering such as its annual scientific meeting.
  • Journées Francophones d’Hépato-gastroentérologie et d’Oncologie Digestive (JFHOD) originally scheduled to be held in Paris, France, March 26-29, 2020.  now rescheduled to take place in the Palais des Congrès de Paris, Paris, Framce, June 25-28, 2020.
  • Royal College of Physicians (RCP) originally scheduled to be held in Birmingham, England, April 23-24, 2020. The meeting is now rescheduled to take place to take place at the same venue, the ICC in Birmingham, January 7-8, 2021.

Earlier today the AACR confirmed that its Board of Directors postponed the organization’s Annual Meeting.

The AACR’s Board made the difficult decision to postpone its annual meeting after careful consideration and comprehensive evaluation of currently available information related to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak

In a statement, the AACR wrote that the organization has been closely monitoring the rapidly increasing domestic and worldwide developments during the last several weeks related to COVID-19, including the latest recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). [1]

Evidence-based decision
The AACR’s evidence-based decision was made after a thorough review and discussion of all factors impacting the Annual Meeting, including the U.S. government’s enforcement of restrictions on international travelers to enter the United States, the imposition of travel restrictions issued by U.S. government agencies, cancer centers, academic institutions, and pharmaceutical and biotech companies, and the counsel of infectious disease experts.

Based on this review, the AACR understood that “these elements significantly affect the ability of delegates, speakers, presenters of proffered papers, and exhibitors to participate fully in the Annual Meeting.”

Health, safety, and security
The AACR continued: “The health, safety, and security of all Annual Meeting attendees and the patients and communities they serve are the AACR’s highest priorities. While we believe that the decision to postpone the meeting is absolutely the correct one to safeguard our meeting participants from further potential exposure to the coronavirus, we also understand that this is a disappointing one for our stakeholders.”

The organizers of the Annual Meeting noted that there had been a great deal of excitement about the meeting, which was expected to be the largest ever AACR Annual Meeting, with more than 7,400 proffered papers, a projected total of 24,000 delegates from 80 countries and more than 500 exhibitors.

“We recognize that the presentation of new data, exchange of information, and opportunities for collaboration offered by the AACR Annual Meeting are highly valued by the entire cancer research community, and we are investigating options for rescheduling the Annual Meeting in the near future,” they noted.

For specific information regarding hotel reservation cancellations, registration refunds, and meeting logistics, the organizers of the annual meeting have added a Frequently Asked Question page on the AACR website.

Information about the dates and location of the rescheduled AACR Annual Meeting will be confirmed when available.

* This overview is not a complete overview of canceled meetings and conferences. Check the website of the organizing medical society if you’re planning a medical society meeting/conference in the near future.

[1] Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Online Last accessed March 11, 2020.

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