Welcome to the 2021 SOT Annual Meeting Website!
This message is to let you know that the 2021 SOT Annual Meeting and ToxExpo will be held as a virtual event. Although we had hoped to be able to hold a traditional, in-person meeting in Orlando, Florida, it has become clear that this will not be feasible. Even if the vaccine trials underway are successful, mass immunization will not be possible by the time of the Annual Meeting. Under current circumstances, the SOT-designated space for Scientific Sessions within the Orange County Convention Center can accommodate a maximum of 2,500 attendees at a given time, but without six-foot distancing; with six-foot distancing, only 600 people can be accommodated. The Florida Department of Health guidelines encourage postponement or cancellation of meetings with more than 250 attendees. These facts make it impractical to stage even a partially on-site meeting.
Additional factors that SOT Council considered include the continuing spread of the virus, the pace of vaccine development and inoculation, the experiences of universities as they reconvene, and the decisions that have already been made by organizations regarding travel and meeting attendance.
- New daily coronavirus cases remain high, at approximately 35,000–45,000 per day. This is down from a peak in July, when new daily cases averaged over 60,000 per day, but the number has been holding relatively steady with widespread geographic distribution throughout the United States. Public health experts have cautioned that additional outbreaks and a resurgence are possible during the winter months as folks spend more time indoors, with potential stresses that may impact health care services as flu season begins (Science editorial “COVID-19 and Flu, a Perfect Storm”).
- While much progress has been made toward vaccine development for SARS-CoV-2 with an encouraging 26 candidates in the human trial phase, it is unlikely that widespread vaccination will be completed before our March 2021 meeting. Public health experts envision a phased approach to vaccine deployment that prioritizes essential workers while manufacturing is ramped up (STAT news report “U.S. Advisory Group Lays Out Detailed Recommendations on How to Prioritize Covid-19 Vaccine”; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine draft report “A Framework for Equitable Allocation of Vaccine for the Novel Coronavirus”). Importantly, lead vaccine candidates will require two doses approximately 28 days apart (New England Journal of Medicine “An mRNA Vaccine against SARS-CoV-2—Preliminary Report” and Pfizer press release “Pfizer and Biontech Choose Lead mRNA Vaccine Candidate against COVID-19 and Commence Pivotal Phase 2/3 Global Study”). For these reasons, it is unlikely that we will have widespread immunity by the time of our meeting.
- As universities have reconvened, many have experienced spikes in COVID-19. While this has not been universal, it is widespread enough that we consider it to be a real risk.
- We have already heard from many of our members that their institutions—in industry, academia, and government—will not permit travel to large meetings at least through the first half of 2021. Furthermore, non-US participation would be difficult or impossible given travel restrictions.
Considering all factors—and as an organization whose mission is to protect and improve public health—we concluded that a virtual meeting is in the best interest of our members and meeting participants.
We will take advantage of state-of-the-art technology that will allow us to present a full agenda of Symposia, Workshops, Continuing Education courses, Poster Sessions, and exhibits. The Scientific Program and Continuing Education Committees have already developed a full slate of courses, Symposia, Workshops, and other Scientific Sessions, which will be presented virtually. We have delayed the abstract submission deadline until December to maximize the number of poster presentations. Posters will be all electronic in a format that will include a short recorded oral presentation with some live poster discussion and scheduled chat features. Posters will be viewable but not downloadable, and we will require all poster viewers to agree not to photograph or screen capture posters, which will provide comparable security as with on-site posters. Exhibitors will have the opportunity to create novel experiences for their clients, and we will be in touch with you about the format. We will provide more details on how all aspects of the Virtual Meeting will work in subsequent communications.
Importantly, while we will provide much of the meeting content during the scheduled meeting week in March, we want to extend the meeting experience so that it covers several weeks. This will allow greater participation across time zones and internationally and will give everyone more opportunities to interact with more content.
I realize this is a disappointment to many of you. Like you, I consider the SOT Annual Meeting to be more than just a chance to see the latest science; it’s also a chance to see old friends and make new ones. I view the Society and its members as extended family, and I know many of you do, too. Accordingly, I made this decision with an exceptionally heavy heart. But as much as all of us will miss the camaraderie and networking, we cannot take the chance of putting you at risk. Finally, please note that this decision was made after a long discussion by SOT Council. It is a consensus decision; however, I take full responsibility for the decision. Please direct any comments you have to me.
2020–2021 SOT President