Nostalgia for Chicago and the in-person ASCO Annual Meeting was the subject of one of the nicest articles I recall writing for ASCO Connection last year. I ended it saying, “We love ASCO. We love Chicago. We hope to have a treatment or a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 by next year, so that we can meet again in Chicago for #ASCO21.” Well, thanks to great science, innovative hardworking scientists, and governmental funding and support, we have several highly effective vaccines approved and deployed all over the world. However, not everyone is vaccinated yet, and while COVID-19 has been controlled to a large extent in many parts of the world, it is still rampant in many others, especially low- and middle-income countries where vaccination remains behind. Therefore we are in for ASCO21 as a second virtual meeting from ASCO.
Over the last year, platforms for medical virtual meetings have evolved and improved significantly, but in my opinion, although I am biased, the ASCO20 Virtual Meeting platform was one of the most user-friendly. The meeting webpage was simple; it listed topics, speakers, sessions, events, etc in various forms that made them easily searchable, whether the session was livestreaming or pre-recorded. Lectures and presentations were available for attendees as videos, slides, or PDFs. #ASCO21 is expected to be even better!
Theoretically, a virtual ASCO Annual Meeting should allow more people from all over the world to attend. People do not have to travel, and depending on which time zone people live in, many doctors can continue their normal work schedule during parts of the meeting days and attend ASCO21 sessions during afternoons and nights!
The theme for this year’s meeting, selected by 2020-2021 ASCO president Lori J. Pierce, MD, FASTRO, FASCO, “Equity: Every Patient. Every Day. Everywhere” invites us all to “identify ways to ensure that all patients can access and benefit from the latest cancer advances and high-quality cancer care. It highlights the importance for oncology professionals to use this moment of cancer progress to make certain that health equity in cancer care becomes a reality for all patients,” as Dr. Pierce said so well.
Some people collect magnets or other souvenirs from their travels. I have a collection ID badges from ASCO, ESMO, and other meetings hanging in my office, and they make feel like I am traveling daily to those great meetings and wonderful cities and countries. This year, again, I will wear one of my old ASCO badges and pretend in front of my fellows and colleagues at the American University of Beirut (@AUB_Lebanon) that I am in Chicago!
We will miss each other, ASCO colleagues, ASCO staff, and friends, we will miss McCormick Place Convention Center, and we will miss Chicago. We hope that next year, if we can achieve equity in COVID-19 vaccination for all populations just as we work for equity in the care of patients with cancer, our #ASCO22 meeting will be an in-person, or at least a hybrid in-person/virtual, meeting!