Coronavirus Puts Oncology Community Conference Schedule in Flux

As coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) continues to spread around the world, several oncology-based organizations are taking precautionary measures to protect physicians and patients alike from infection, including making the decision to postpone, or even cancel, select medical conferences.

As coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) continues to spread around the world, several oncology-based organizations are taking precautionary measures to protect physicians and patients alike from infection, including making the decision to postpone, or even cancel, select medical conferences.

The COVID-19 originated in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 and it appears to be spread from person to person. Because no preventive vaccine or antiviral treatment is available for the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites avoiding exposure as the strongest way to prevent infection.1

One of the biggest challenges regarding COVID-19 is that it can be difficult to detect. Individuals can present with symptoms anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks after exposure to the virus. Thus, individuals may unknowingly expose others to the disease.

On January 30, 2020 the World Health Organization’s International Health Regulations Emergency Committee declared the outbreak as a “public health emergency of international concern.”2 The following day, the Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II declared a public health emergency for the United States to assist in response to the virus.3

In light of the outbreak, the CDC has released interim guidance pertaining to mass gatherings or large community events.4

“A COVID-19 outbreak could last for a long time,” the CDC wrote. “Depending on the severity of the outbreak, public health officials may recommend community actions designed to limit exposure to COVID-19.” These actions could include requests to modify, postpone, or cancel large events to ensure the safety and well-being of event staff, participants, and the community as a whole.

Several organizations who have planned to hold medical meetings throughout Europe have already taken action.

ENETS Launches Ambitious Plan to Launch Virtual Meeting

The European Neuroendocrine Tumor Society (ENETS) executive committee decided to call a meeting to discuss the ENETs conferences and examine any health risks posed to potential attendees, given the growing concerns regarding the virus.

The Annual European ENETS Conference and 1st World NET Forum in 2020 had been slated to be held on March 10 to 11, 2020 in Barcelona, Spain. However, on February 28, 2020, an ENETS representative sent out an alert stated that under the current situation with COVID-19 they could not justify hosting a physical meeting at this stage, as “it’s too risky to bring people together in Barcelona.”5

However, the conference will not be cancelled; in fact, ENETS has set out to replace the physical meeting with one that can be attended virtually. Although details have not been released, the society shared that they plan to broadcast “as many talks as possible.” Although the conference may be a bit shorter than originally planned, the society plans to live broadcast all of the didactic lectures and make electronic poster presentations available on their website.

“Once again, we trust that you understand our concerns (many members have been in touch directly expressing their concerns about travel, and possible risks to patients under their care),” they wrote in the email alert. “We thus wish to contact you as early as possible so that you can make the necessary arrangements with respect to your work, travel, etc.”

Further details regarding registration fees, format, the scientific program and how to connect to the virtual meeting are forthcoming.

EBMT Postpones Annual Meeting Until Summer

The European Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation (EBMT) recently announced the postponement of their 46th Annual Meeting on March 4, 2020.6 The meeting was originally slated to be held from March 22 to 25, 2020, and will now be held from August 30 to September 2, 2020. The meeting will take place at the same venue as originally planned, IFEMA, which is located in Madrid, Spain.

This announcement directly followed an official statement released by the Spanish Minister of Health on March 3, 2020, which called for the suspension of all congresses, conferences, and seminars in Spain that involve healthcare professionals. The decision to postpone was made in accordance with this decision and guidance provided by the health authorities.

Those who have already registered for the meeting are automatically registered for the new dates, under the same conditions, according to the announcement.

“EBMT would like to thank all of our members and supporters for their cooperation and understanding during this time,” they write. “Despite this difficult situation, we appreciate your support and are working hard to ensure the postponed edition of the 46th Annual Meeting of EBMT is a success.”

NCCN Joins List of Postponed Meetings

On March 5, 2020, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) announced the postponement of their NCCN 2020 Annual Conference and pre-conference programs that had been scheduled for March 19 to 22, 2020 in Orlando, Florida, also citing the rapid spread of COVID-19.7 The conference was projected to bring together over 1500 oncology professionals and showcase over 30 educational sessions pertaining to novel practices in cancer care.

“The health and safety of our attendees and the patients they take care of is our number one concern,” Robert W. Carlson, MD, chief executive officer of NCCN, said in a statement. “This was an incredibly difficult and disappointing decision to have to make. However, our conference attendees work to save the lives of immunocompromised people every day. Some of them are cancer survivors themselves, particularly at our patient advocacy pavilion. It’s our responsibility, in an abundance of caution, to safeguard them from any potential exposure to COVID-19.”

Prior to reaching this decision, the NCCN consulted leading infectious disease experts to decide if postponing the meeting, which was slated to include a celebration of the organization’s 25th anniversary, would be in all attendees’ best interest.

The NCCN is currently examining different ways in which technology can assist in sharing any critical cancer management updates that would have been presented at the meeting. The organization is rapidly working to notify all conference registrants about the postponement and further information pertaining to the refund process.

Additional Postponements and Cancellations

Below are additional meetings that have been either cancelled or postponed due to the virus:

  • ESMO Targeted Anticancer Therapies (TAT) Congress 2020: Due to the spread of coronavirus across Europe, and now increasingly in France, ESMO has decided to not proceed with the TAT Congress, which was planned to take place from March 2 to 4, 2020 in Paris, France.8
  • European Congress of Radiology 2020 Annual Meeting: Although slated to commence from March 11 to 15, 2020 in Vienna, Austria, concern regarding the coronavirus has led to the postponement of the meeting to July 15 to 19, 2020.9

More to Come?

Although the European Lung Cancer Congress continues to be confirmed as planned, to be held from April 15 to 18, 2020 in Palexpo, Geneva, Switzerland, ESMO is following measures and directives issued by the Swiss authorities associated with suspending, or even banning, public and private events that involve over 1000 attendees—an action meant to prevent the spread of the virus.10

Working Together to Prevent Further Spread

The CDC recommends several actions to prevent the spread of disease, including: avoiding close contact with those who are ill; avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; staying home when sick; covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then disposing the tissue directly into the trash; cleaning and disinfecting objects and surfaces that are frequently touched; and washing your hands often with soap and water.11

References

  1. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. bit.ly/2TEOqfA. Updated February 17, 2020. Accessed March 5, 2020.
  2. Statement on the second meeting of the International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee regarding the outbreak of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). World Health Organization website. Published January 30, 2020. bit.ly/2uXTraI. Accessed March 5, 2020.
  3. Secretary Azar declares public health emergency for United States for 2019 novel coronavirus [news release]. The US Department of Health and Human Services; January 31, 2020. bit.ly/2TIkkrz. Accessed March 5, 2020.
  4. Get Your Mass Gatherings or Large Community Events Ready for Coronavirus Disease 2019: Interim Guidance. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Updated March 3, 2020. bit.ly/38r66kk. Accessed March 5, 2020.
  5. ALERT: Updates and changes to the Annual ENETS conference and 1st World NET Forum in 2020. European Neuroendocrine Tumor Society. Issued February 28, 2020. bit.ly/2TIkkrz. Accessed March 5, 2020.
  6. Official EBMT communication: COVID-19 and EBMT Annual Meeting — 04/03/2020 [news release]. The European Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation. Posted March 4, 2020. bit.ly/39vGWlV. Accessed March 5, 2020.
  7. National Comprehensive Cancer Network postpones 2020 annual conference, citing precautions against potential patient exposure to COVID-19 [news release]. Plymouth Meeting, PA: National Comprehensive Cancer Network; March 5, 2020. bit.ly/2IqxJiY. Accessed March 6, 2020.
  8. Coronavirus: update from ESMO. European Society for Medical Oncology. Posted February 28, 2020. bit.ly/38sIc81. Accessed March 5, 2020.
  9. ECR 2020 postponement — update. European Society of Radiology. Posted March 4, 2020. bit.ly/2PULF8K. Accessed March 5, 2020.
  10. Coronavirus: update on the ELCC Congress. European Society for Medical Oncology. Posted March 4, 2020. bit.ly/39pMyxX. Accessed March 5, 2020.
  11. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Prevention & Treatment. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. bit.ly/2IrZ9EQ. Accessed March 5, 2020.
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